The Conservative party vision of a true seven-day NHS culture is seemingly extremely close to being manifested, with news that will affect the careers of consultants emerging this week.
Consultants are among the most privileged group of workers in the health service, yet it seems that this tranche of the NHS workforce is about to lose its right to work at weekends.
As contract negotiations continue, it is believed that union leaders have agree to scrap the clause allowing senior hospital doctors to opt out of shifts on Saturdays and Sundays.
This remains one of the last obstacles to the government plan for a seven-day NHS providing patients with the same level of service on a daily basis.
But there is still uncertainty about the future of the NHS owing to the ongoing dispute over the contracts of junior doctors.
The British Medical Association believes that it will be extremely marginal whether employees in the NHS accept the contractual terms when they are voted on in June.
Consultants’ contracts are also being renegotiated after the lucrative terms introduced by Labour in 2003 provided them with the right to refuse weekend shifts, while simultaneously increasing average pay by almost one-third.
The Conservative government is pressing forward with plans to create a seven-day NHS culture, despite the fact that one of the key arguments behind its decision has been debunked.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had pointed to studies which suggest that patients die in disproportionately high numbers at weekends, but this research has now been thoroughly discredited.
Nonetheless, it seems that the government is determined to ensure that consultants cannot opt out of the new working directives.
Correspondence from Ann MacIntyre, one of the NHS employers’ negotiators involved with the British Medical Association, suggests the right to opt out of non-essential evening and weekend work will be removed from the new consultant contract.
Commenting on the issue, a spokesman for the Department of Health suggested that the new contractual terms are motivated by ensuring fairness across the health service as a whole.
“We want to introduce a fairer contract for consultants that better reflects their role as leaders in our NHS and helps to ensure patients get safe, high-quality care every day of the week. Talks with the BMA have been constructive but they have not concluded.”
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association responded to the views of the Department of Health, with a spokesman indicating that no decisions have been made regarding contracts.
“Talks on the consultant contract are ongoing and will be for several months. No final agreement has yet been reached and no final contract has been agreed.”