Factions in BMA risking lives with misinformation says Jeremy Hunt
Factions in the British Medical Association (BMA) risk putting lives on the line by peddling "misinformation" in a politicised bid to fuel his row with junior doctors, Jeremy Hunt has claimed.
The Health Secretary accused some on the union's council of viewing the dispute over weekend working hours as a "political opportunity to bash a Tory government that they hate" and said looming strikes would be "the worst possible thing for the NHS".
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Hunt said patients must be put before politics. The Department of Health is hoping to reduce weekend mortality rates which, according to some figures, mean 11,000 extra patients die each year after being admitted to hospital over the weekend.
However some junior doctors argue that the proposed change to work patterns will amount to a 30% pay cut and result in doctors working dangerously long shifts.
Talks between the DoH and the BMA broke down after just one hour when doctors walked out, claimed Mr Hunt, who has been accused of spin in the debate.
A series of three strikes is due to start on Tuesday, when junior doctors will only provide emergency care for 24 hours, potentially causing delays to elective surgeries.
If negotiations fail they will stop providing all care, including emergency procedures, in a walkout on February 10 from 8am to 5pm.
Mr Hunt told the newspaper junior doctors were the "backbone" of an NHS already under strain from seasonal increases in admissions, that have seen many declare they are struggling with demand.
He said: "I think it's really important that the BMA leadership rein in any elements who are looking at this strike in that way because that would be the worst possible thing for the NHS."
He added: "It is unprecedented for doctors to say that they will be withdrawing emergency care. That is basically saying that you won't be there for your patients even in life-threatening situations."
It was in the long-term interest of doctors to accept the plans in order to protect patients, he explained.
There were "too many" studies that highlight soaring fatality rates over weekends, including a 29% hike in cancer surgery deaths, a 20% increase in stroke mortality, an 11% rise in general surgery deaths and a 7% increase in mortality rates for newborn babies, Mr Hunt said.
Under the new contract 99% of doctors would have their pay protected, he claimed, adding: "One of the most disappointing things about this dispute has been the amount of misinformation that has gone around about what the Government is trying to do."
The BMA has insisted it is "apolitical" and the strikes "demonstrated the strength of feeling amongst the profession".
The government's chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, urged the BMA to suspend strikes.
"As a doctor, I can understand the anger and frustration felt by many junior doctors at this time," she said.
"In part, this dispute is a symptom of frustration and low morale that has been building for decades and the strain that a career in medicine can place on your work-life balance.
"Junior doctors are the backbone of the NHS, working long and anti-social hours. Training now is very different from when I went through it. It is vital that, as senior medical leaders, we ask ourselves whether we are doing everything we can to ensure our junior colleagues feel valued.
"But it is clear that the only way to resolve this is by negotiation, so I ask the BMA to suspend action while talks are ongoing. Industrial action will lead to patients suffering, and no doctor wants to see that happen."