Junior doctors strike: Jeremy Hunt accuses junior doctors of 'putting patients at risk'

Health Secretary repeats contentious claims that lower staffing levels at weekends cause higher mortality rates 

Matt Dathan
Online political reporter
Tuesday 12 January 2016 15:41 GMT
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Jeremy Hunt sneaked out an announcement that NHS England was discontinuing weekly updates of a number of target indicators
Jeremy Hunt sneaked out an announcement that NHS England was discontinuing weekly updates of a number of target indicators

Jeremy Hunt has accused junior doctors of “putting patients at risk” by going ahead with their “wholly unnecessary” strike against Government plans for a new contract.

The Health Secretary urged the British Medical Association – the trade union for trade unions – to return to the negotiating table to discuss the terms of the new contract.

“The right thing to do is to talk, not do what we’re seeing today which is putting patients at risk,” Mr Hunt said.

He also repeated contentious claims that the new contract was necessary in order to reduce the higher-than-normal mortality rates in NHS hospitals at weekends.

It has yet to be proven whether lower staffing levels causes more deaths at the weekend or whether other factors are to blame.

Mr Hunt praised junior doctors who “ignored” the BMA’s advice not to return to a hospital in the West Midlands that had ordered them to back to work due to a “level 4 incident”.

“This is a wholly unnecessary dispute,” he told BBC Radio 4. “We want all NHS patients to have the confidence that they will get the same high quality care every day of the week.

“At the moment, for example, if you have a stroke at the weekends you are 20 per cent more likely to die and that cannot be right. And that’s something every doctor wants to sort out as well.

“So the right thing to do is sit round the table and talk to the Government about how we improve patient safety and patient care; not these very unnecessary strikes.”

He insisted he took ultimate responsibility for the strikes but also said he could not “sit and ignore” studies that pointed to higher mortality rates.

“I take responsibility for everything that happens in the NHS, but when you’ve had eight studies in the last five years – and it’s not just strokes, the mortality rate for new-borns is seven per cent higher at or around weekends, the mortality rate for emergency surgery is 11 per cent higher – I can’t in all consciousness as Health Secretary sit and ignore those studies.”

The statistics by Mr Hunt were questioned by Britain’s leading medical journal, with its editor, Dr Fiona Godlee, accusing him of “misrepresenting” the facts that lower staffing levels at weekends caused higher mortality rates at the weekend.

Dr Godlee asked whether the Health Secretary “fully understands the issues involved”.

Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander hit straight back at Mr Hunt's accusations that junior doctors had put patient safety at risk, saying he and no one else was to blame for cancelled operations and appointments today.

"Nobody wanted to see industrial action – least of all the junior doctors, but we can understand why they feel they’ve got no other option to get their point across," she said.

"But anyone who has an operation cancelled today or an outpatient appointment delayed should be under no illusions that the person to blame for all of this is Jeremy Hunt and not the junior doctors.”

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