Jeremy Hunt tells junior doctors they will not have pay cut – as long they don't work more than 56 hours a week

A large number of doctors are understood to regularly work beyond these hours, and could still lose out

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt
The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt

No junior doctor working less than 56 hours a week will have their pay cut as a result of the Government’s new contract, Jeremy Hunt has pledged.

In a major concession in the on-going dispute between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Government, the Health Secretary has written to the doctors’ union to offer what he called a “firm guarantee” on pay.

Dr Johann Malawana, chair of the BMA’s junior doctor committee, said the offer “could be step in the right direction”. Junior doctors are due to ballot for industrial action over the new contract next month. Dr Malawana said he looked forward to seeing “more of the detail” of Mr Hunt’s proposals in the coming days.

The pledge only applies to doctors working within what Mr Hunt described as the “legal limit” 56 hours a week on average. A large number of doctors are understood to regularly work beyond these hours, and could still lose out. Mr Hunt said doctors should not be working longer than 56 hours because it was “unsafe for patients”.

The Government had previously pledged that the new contract, which ministers say will improve medical cover in hospitals at the weekend, would not lower the average pay of junior doctors, but have not been able to pledge that no single medic will face a pay cut.

In his letter, Mr Hunt states: “I continue to believe that our ambition for the NHS to be the safest healthcare system in the world is underpinned by reducing, not increasing, the number of hours junior doctors work each week.”

He said the new contract would also introduce a new maximum 72-hour week would be introduced.

Fears that the contract will lead to pay cuts have been fuelled by a clause in the new contract which will see evenings and Saturdays reclassified as normal working time with no additional pay.

The BMA had also expressed concern the new contract will remove financial penalties for hospitals that require them to pay doctors significantly more for working beyond contracted hours. But Mr Hunt said that, far from safeguarding doctors, the financial penalties had offered “a perverse incentive” for doctors to work unsafe long hours.

The Government had previously pledged that the new contract would not lower the average pay of junior doctors (Getty)

Responding to Mr Hunt’s letter, Dr Malawana said: “It is encouraging that the health secretary has finally made a significant shift and recognised some of the concerns raised by junior doctors. However, it has taken the threat of industrial action and the sight of thousands of junior doctors taking to the streets to reach this point.

“The BMA has been quite clear that the government must withdraw the threat of imposition of new contracts on junior doctors, the extensive preconditions to negotiations the Department of Health keep insisting on and provide junior doctors with the assurances they are demanding before re-entering negotiations. Today’s letter from the Health Secretary could be a step in the right direction.”

Mr Hunt announced the letter during a debate in the House of Commons on the junior doctor contract, as Labour called for the Government to guarantee no junior doctor would face a pay cut. Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander criticised the Government’s attempt to impose a contract on doctors.

“Stop the high-handed demands, show you are prepared to compromise and put patients before politics,” she told Mr Hunt.

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