NHS junior doctors will be forced to accept a controversial new contract without agreement or further negotiation, the Health Secretary has announced.
Jeremy Hunt said imposing the contract unilaterally would end “uncertainty” in the health service.
Doctors have been on strike over the new contract, which they say will put patient safety at risk and leave medics working the longest hours worse off.
The new terms of employment re-define anti-social hours and make it cheaper for hospitals to roster doctors on weekends and evenings.
The Government says this will improve care at the weekends and in evenings but junior doctors worry that it will affect patient safety by encouraging unsafe shift patterns, and also that doctors who work the very longest hours will lose out financially.
A survey of junior doctors reported by Independent yesterday found that over 90 per cent of junior doctors would consider leaving the profession if the contract was imposed without agreement.
“Progress has been made on almost 100 different points of discussion with agreement secured on approximately 90 per cent of them,” the Health Secretary told MPs in the House of Commons at noon on Thursday.
“Sadly, despite this progress and willingness from the Government to be flexible on the crucial issue of Saturday pay Sir David Dalton [the Government’s chief negotiator] wrote to me yesterday warning that a negotiated solution is ‘not realistically possible’.
“Along with other senior NHS leaders and supported by NHS Employers, NHS England, NHS Improvement, the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers, he has asked me to end the uncertainty to the service by proceeding with the introduction of a new contract that he and his colleagues consider both safer for patients and fair and reasonable for junior doctors.
“I have therefore today decided to that.”
Mr Hunt was yesterday urged by some organistions representing NHS leaders to bring the dispute "to a conclusion" by unilaterally imposing the deal.
“I think the ideal conclusion would be for employers to make a fair and final reasonable offer and for the BMA to accept it,” NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday.
“If the BMA doesn’t accept it, I think our members are saying to us that the Secretary of State has to find a way to bring this to a conclusion.
“If the BMA won’t accept a fair and reasonable offer then, yes, it is legitimate and sensible for the Secretary of State to consider imposition.”
In her response to the parliamentary statement, Labour's shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander said Mr Hunt's move was "the biggest gamble with patient safety this House has ever seen".
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell described the Health Secretary's behaviour as "dictatorial".
David Cameron previously said that ruling out imposing the contract would give the British Medical Association a “veto and block over progress” in the NHS.
Mr Hunt says the Conservatives have a mandate from their manifesto commitments on the health service to make the change. The Tory manifesto made reference to creating a so-called "seven-day NHS" which Mr Hunt says the old contract is disrupting.
The Health Secretary has used academic studies showing higher death rates at the weekend in NHS hospitals to justify his project.
However, he has been personally criticised by the British Medical Journal for citing studies it published and claiming they indicated that NHS care was dangerous at weekends.
The journal’s editor accused the Health Secretary of misrepresenting the studies and said they could not be used to justify his conclusion.
A number of polls have shown widespread public support for junior doctors in the dispute and the latest poll ahead of Wednesday's strike showed large majorities of people blamed the Government for the ongoing nature of the dispute.
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