The British Medical Association has indicated that junior doctors will hold three further strikes as the argument over the government’s plan to impose new contractual conditions on them rumbles on.
Each of the three strikes will last for two days, and this unprecedented action certainly represents an escalation in the bitter argument over pay, working hours and the ultimate safety of patients.
The Prime Minister David Cameron has already responded to the plans of the doctors’ union, describing the planned three-day strike as “regrettable”.
But Dr Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctor committee chair, was defiant, and indicated that the decision taken by junior doctors and the British Medical Association was the only viable course of action open to them.
“We have already seen NHS chief executives refusing to support an imposition, and patient representatives have said they are appalled by this move. Added to this, the government’s former adviser on patient safety, Don Berwick, has said it should apologise to junior doctors over the contract dispute. The government must listen to the chorus of concern coming from all quarters and reconsider this disastrous approach.”
Malawana was also keen to emphasise the pressurised conditions that junior doctors are already forced to work in, and suggested that the terms of the government at the time of writing were simply unreasonable and untenable.
“The fact is, junior doctors already work around the clock, seven days a week and they do so under their existing contract. If the government wants more seven-day services then, quite simply, it needs more doctors, nurses and support staff, and the extra investment necessary to deliver them. Rather than address these issues head on, the government wants to introduce a contract that is unfair and in which junior doctors have no confidence.”
In his intention to impose the conditions of the planned contract on NHS staff, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has argued that it is a necessity in order to end uncertainty for the NHS as a health service.
If the Health Secretary indeed ultimately gets his wishes, then the new contractual provisions will become active in August of this year.
The contract would result in Saturdays between 7am and 5pm become part of a junior doctor’s normal working week for the first time – an issue on which the BMA refused to negotiate during the talks.
A Department of Health spokesperson naturally contested the position of the British Medical Association in a statement.
“Further strike action is completely unnecessary and will mean tens of thousands more patients face cancelled operations — over a contract that was 90% agreed with the BMA and which senior NHS leaders including Simon Stevens have endorsed as fair and safe. The new contract will mean an average 13.5% basic pay rise, and will bring down the maximum number of hours doctors can work. We urge junior doctors to look at the detail of the contract and the clear benefits it brings.”
With 90% of the 38,000 junior doctors represented by the British Medical Association having voted in favour of striking back in the last ballot in November, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the strike will indeed go ahead unless there is an eleventh hour intervention from the government.