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Government will impose contract on junior doctors, says Hunt

Published 06/07/2016

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was a difficult decision
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was a difficult decision

The Government will impose a new contract on junior doctors across England, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

Mr Hunt said it had been a "difficult decision" to take but the NHS needed certainty, including in light of the UK's decision to leave the EU.

It comes after junior doctors and medical students rejected a contract brokered between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Government, with 58% voting against the deal while 42% voted in favour.

Some 68% of those eligible turned out to vote - around 37,000 junior doctors and medical students.

In a Commons statement, Mr Hunt said: "In May, the Government and NHS Employers reached an historic agreement with the BMA on a new contract for junior doctors after three years of negotiations and several days of damaging strike action."

He said the contract was seen as a good deal by Dr Johann Malawana, who was then chairman of the BMA's junior doctors' committee, and was endorsed by royal medical colleges.

He added: "Unfortunately because of the vote we are now left in a no-man's land that, if it continues, can only damage the NHS.

"An elected government whose main aim is to improve the safety and quality of care for patients has come up against a union which has stirred up anger amongst its own members it is now unable to pacify.

"I was not a fan of the tactics used by the BMA but to its credit their leader Dr Malawana did in the end negotiate a deal and work hard to get support for it. Now he has resigned it is not clear that there is anyone able to deliver the support of BMA members for any negotiated settlement.

"Protracted uncertainty at precisely the time we grapple with the enormous consequences of leaving the EU can only be damaging for those working in the NHS and the patients who depend on it."

Mr Hunt said the "only realistic way to end this impasse" is to bring in the contract that was agreed with the BMA in May, with the phasing in starting in October.

He added: "This is a difficult decision to make. Many people will call for me to return to negotiations with the BMA and to them I would like to say this: we have been talking or trying to talk for well over three years. There is no consensus around a new contract and after yesterday's vote it is not clear that any further discussions could create one."

Under the proposed deal, Saturdays and Sundays would attract premium pay if doctors - the vast majority of whom are expected to - work seven or more weekends in a year.

Doctors would receive a percentage of their annual salary for working these weekends - ranging from 3% for working one weekend in seven to up to 10% if they work one weekend in two.

Any night shift would also result in an enhanced pay rate of 37% for all the hours worked.

The deal also set out payment for doctors who are on call, and agreed a basic pay increase of between 10% and 11%.

Shadow health secretary Diane Abbott told the Commons: "A t this time of general instability, I would urge the Government to reconsider imposing this contract at all.

"It has not helped for the Government to treat junior doctors like the enemy within."

The BMA said it would consult members on "next steps".

It is believed further industrial action is one option.

Ellen McCourt, the BMA's junior doctors' committee chairwoman, said: "It is extremely disappointing that the Government is pushing ahead with the introduction of a contract that has been rejected by a majority of junior doctors.

"Good progress had been made in recent months and I believe agreeing a contract in which junior doctors have confidence is still the best way forward.

"By choosing this route rather than building on progress made and addressing the outstanding issues which led to a rejection of the contract by many junior doctors, the Government is simply storing up problems for the future.

"A new contract will affect a generation of doctors and impact on the delivery of patient care. It needs to have the support of the profession, and in light of today's announcement the BMA will need to consult with members before deciding on next steps.

"The BMA has always been clear in its desire for a negotiated end to this dispute and I am committed to delivering on this."

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