GMC warns that ‘patients will suffer’ if five-day strikes go ahead

Image Credit: Flickr, Roger Blackwell
Image Credit: Flickr, Roger Blackwell

Regulatory body the General Medical Council (GMC) has warned that patients could suffer if junior doctors in England press ahead with a series of five-day strikes, the first of which is scheduled to begin on September 12.

The GMC says the scale of the industrial action at such short notice is not justified, and is therefore “calling on every doctor in training to pause and consider the implications for patients”.

Professor Terence Stephenson, Chair of the GMC, says: “We recognise the frustration and alienation of doctors in training and indeed their legal right to take industrial action. However, we are extremely concerned about the impact which this prolonged campaign of industrial action will have on patients’ care and on the public’s trust in doctors.”

Professor Stephenson adds that the GMC is concerned about the “cumulative impact” of previous industrial action on patient care, and says that the latest announcement from the British Medical Association (BMA) signals a “substantial escalation” with the removal of emergency cover by junior doctors and a rolling programme of industrial action for five days of each month well into the coming winter – a frequent pinch point for the NHS.

Health service under “huge pressure”

Professor Stephenson adds: “The health service is under huge pressure. During previous industrial action all doctors went to considerable lengths to make sure that patients continued to receive a good and safe level of care. We know that doctors will again want to do their utmost to reduce the risk of harm and suffering to patients.”

Doctor Surgery Operation

“Serious concerns”

BMA junior doctor leader Dr Ellen McCourt says many junior doctors still have "serious concerns" about the contract.

She says: "The government has consistently said this is about creating a seven-day NHS, when junior doctors already work weekends and it's been shown that the government has no answer to how it will staff and fund extra weekend care."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt predicted last week that the proposed series of strikes could result in 100,000 cancelled operations and up to a million cancelled appointments and Katherine Murphy of the Patients Association, says the five-day strikes could have a “catastrophic impact” for patients.

Junior Doctor

GMC advice for doctors

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive and Registrar at the GMC, outlines the latest advice for doctors – those considering industrial action as well as doctors in leadership roles and senior doctors. He stresses: “The duties of a doctor are set out in Good medical practice, which says that doctors must make the care of their patient their first concern.

“At this difficult time, everyone in the profession must remember their responsibilities – to each other and to their patients – respecting each other’s views and decisions in person, in print and online.”

“Matter of professional duty”

Mr Dickson adds: “Parliament has not fettered the right of doctors to take industrial action, unlike some other professions and occupations. Doctors therefore have a right to strike and take industrial action. The question each doctor must ask, however, before taking action is whether what they are proposing to do is likely to cause significant harm to patients under his or her care or who otherwise would have come under his or her care. This is a matter of professional duty and we expect each doctor to comply with it.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, says that the GMC is right to be concerned about the impact of the strikes on patients. He says: "We share the GMC's view that the scale of action planned at such short notice cannot be justified."

Junior doctors across England will take part in industrial action on the following dates between 08:00 and 17:00.

  • Monday September 12 – Friday September 16
  • Wednesday October 5 – to Tuesday October 11 (although the weekend is expected to be covered)
  • Monday November 14 – Friday November 18
  • Monday December 5 – Friday December 9

The long-running dispute relates to a new contract, due to be imposed without the agreement of the majority of BMA member doctors working in England from October this year.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement earlier this year that the new contract would be imposed in order to “end uncertainty”.

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