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New junior doctors contract will not be 'unsafe or dangerous for patients'

A new contract for junior doctors will not be "unsafe or dangerous for patients", the NHS's national director for patient safety has said.

In an open letter ahead of a strike by junior doctors on Wednesday, Dr Mike Durkin said the current contract had serious flaws and patients would be safer under the new arrangements.

He said: "Can it really be fair to label the new contract as 'unsafe' when it clearly contains a number of measures that will directly improve the safety of care for patients, putting right some serious flaws in the current contract that posed risks to patient safety?

"I am particularly aware of the current situation where doctors in training find themselves fatigued and under stress because of rota gaps and increased workload which can lead to an inevitable impact on morale and staff safety.

"It is disappointing that the view of the new contract as unsafe is being perpetuated and not challenged more widely."

Dr Durkin said the new contract will deliver a number of safety benefits, including l imits on working hours, i mproved shift patterns and more safeguards.

"I believe these changes will be good for doctors and good for patients," he said. "The importance of effective handover between shifts for patient safety is well known, and these measures will help doctors to work with others to make handovers safer."

There will also be a stronger role of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in scrutinising working time for junior doctors, he said.

"Independent scrutiny of the reports from doctors who have been asked to work in conditions they believe are unsafe must be put in place.

"The CQC must also assess and challenge how trust boards have responded to such reports and indeed all safety concerns and where they fail, financial sanctions to benefit the junior doctor must be put in place."

Junior doctors are to stage a 48-hour strike from 8am on Wednesday, followed by another one on April 8 and another on April 26.

They will provide emergency care only during these periods.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has launched a judicial review into the imposition of the new England-wide contract, which followed a breakdown in talks between the BMA, NHS Employers and Government officials.

Dr Johann Malawana, chairman of the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee, said: "Junior doctors want to agree a fair contract that delivers for patients, doctors and the NHS as a whole which is why during negotiations the BMA successfully pushed very hard for improvements around safe working and patient care. We remain concerned that the imposed contract has many untested elements, including how effective the new safeguards will be in practice.

"The Government's proposals would also greatly impact those junior doctors who work the most unsocial hours, affecting doctors in our A&Es and other areas of medicine that are already struggling to recruit and keep staff, compounding staff shortages which would clearly be bad for the delivery of patient care and the NHS in the long term."

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