A leading union has stated that the dispute over junior doctors’ contracts could yet become a war between NHS staff.
Unison’s Christina McAnea said imposing the contract “sends a very worrying message to other members of staff”.
McAnea added that “everybody else is really worried that if they can do this to doctors, what does that mean for us?”
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has insisted that he will impose what he considers to be ideal contractual provisions for junior doctors, but these plans increasingly seem to be unravelling.
It is already been reported that individual hospitals will have the right to overrule Hunt, and now major unions are suggesting that a civil war is essentially brewing in the NHS.
Yet he remains defiant on his position with regard to junior doctors’ contracts.
The Health Secretary claims that the contractual plans that he has will improve patient care, and Hunt has also stated that he has made efforts to listen to the concerns of healthcare professionals.
Hunt has also publicly criticised the British Medical Association, suggesting that the organisation has been intransigent in failing to reach a deal over the past three years.
But the walkout of junior doctors recently indicates that NHS staff are willing to play hardball with the government and establishment.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned McAnea believes that ill feeling is brewing in the health service, and that this could have very serious consequences.
“Our feeling is the government wants to extend seven-day services but they don’t want to fund it. They want staff to fund it through accepting cuts to pay and conditions. If there is a cut to unsocial hours payments or an imposition [of a new contract] then I think they would look to take some kind of action.”
Increasingly, public feeling it seems to be with junior doctors, with a petition on the subject having raised 180,000 signatures.
This exceeds the thresholds for a Commons debate by over 100,000, indicating the strength of feeling, and also the fact that the political process will have to acknowledge this fissure.
It is suggested that many junior doctors may consider venturing abroad in order to ply their trade, with contractual conditions threatening some junior doctors’ pay to be reduced by as much as 30%.
With neither side seemingly willing to back down, and still a considerable distance between the two parties, this certainly seems like an issue that will continue to run into 2016.
As the Health Secretary currently faces numerous problems within the NHS, it could be that he is ultimately forced to back down significantly and embarrassingly over this issue.