Junior doctors strike plan 'highly unsafe for patients' warns GP MP
Planned strike action by junior doctors has been branded "extreme" and "highly unsafe" by the chair of the Commons Health Select Committee.
Sarah Wollaston, herself a GP, accused the British Medical Association (BMA) of failing to "put patients first" after it announced two full strike days and another when they will only deal with emergencies.
The BMA said it had taken the "extraordinary step" of announcing the proposed dates next month and type of action ahead of the ballot result on Wednesday.
If there is a Yes vote, junior doctors will only provide emergency care for 24 hours from 8am on December 1, followed by full walkouts from 8am to 5pm on December 8 and 16.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the strikes - the latest stage of a fierce dispute over pay and conditions in a new contract - were "totally unwarranted" and would harm vulnerable patients.
Dr Wollaston said the plan was "far too extreme", coming in the middle of what is traditionally the busiest period of the year for the NHS.
"I think it is not putting patients first, I think this will be highly unsafe for patients," she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"When you think of the number of procedures that might not be emergencies but are extremely urgent, to have three days, including two of them a full walkout, will be putting patients in significant harm."
Dr Wollaston went on: "I think it is appalling the BMA are taking this action - it is far too extreme.
"I think the BMA are being rather misleading here, because the new contract proposals will actually reduce the maximum hours. So the argument that it is unsafe because people will be treated by tired doctors just doesn't hold weight, I'm afraid.
"Even if they give this notice, they know the NHS is under great pressure.
"To have three days where effectively we are cancelling all routine procedures, the kind of procedures that consultants undertake - for example, cardiac catheterisations for people who are having a heart attack - how are consultants going to be able to get on with that sort of really important work?"
In an email to all members in England, BMA council chairman Mark Porter said: "We are releasing this information at this early stage because we want to give as much notice as possible.
"It sounds like an oxymoron when talking about industrial action, but we genuinely want to minimise any disruption to other NHS staff and, above all, to patients.
"Our dispute is with the Government and our ballot for industrial action is a last resort in the face of their continued intransigence."
The union has refused to get back around the negotiating table with the Government in the row over a new contract, which is set to be imposed from next summer on doctors working up to consultant level.
Mr Hunt had made a bid to avert strikes with a fresh deal, including an 11% rise in basic pay and overtime pay after 7pm on Saturday evenings, a concession on the previous 10pm.
Flexible pay premiums would be applied to more specialities than just general practice and A&E care, with acute medical ward staff and psychiatrists benefiting, he said.
The Health Secretary argued that just 1% of doctors would lose pay because of the deal and those were limited to doctors working too many hours already.
He said maximum working hours per week would fall from 91 to 72 under the new deal.
After the proposed strikes were announced, Mr Hunt said: "Threatening extreme action is totally unwarranted and will harm vulnerable patients.
"Refusing to talk to a Government that wants to improve weekend care for patients and reduce doctors' hours can only damage the NHS.
"Rather than striking, the BMA should return to the negotiations they walked away from a year ago and put their patients first."
Johann Malawana, the BMA's junior doctor committee chairman, said the increase in basic pay was misleading as it would be "offset by changes to pay for unsocial hours - devaluing the vital work junior doctors do at evenings and weekends".
The BMA said it has told the Government it wants to work with it to agree a new contract, but it needs a number of concrete assurances.
These include withdrawal of the threat to impose the new contract, proper recognition of unsocial hours as premium time, no disadvantage for those working unsocial hours compared with the current system, and no disadvantage for those working less than full- time and taking parental leave compared with the current system.