Junior doctors say they are ready to continue the fight against contract imposition

Junior Doctor Surgery

Junior doctors across England plan to resist the imposition of a new contract after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced the new contract would be rolled out from October – despite being rejected by a majority of British Medical Association members in a referendum.

Newly-elected BMA junior doctors committee chair Dr Ellen McCourt has described the Department of Health’s decision to go ahead with imposition of the contract as “extremely disappointing”. In an email to members, she says the junior doctors committee (JDC) had therefore “agreed to continue to fight the imposition” and would be consulting members on the terms of the contract and any ongoing industrial action.

The decision to reject the deal for junior doctors working in England is said to have been made based on a member referendum, of which 68% of the 54,000 eligible doctors took part. Of those members, 58% voted to reject the proposed contract terms and 42% voted in favour of accepting them.

BMA hopes to resolve concerns

Dr McCourt adds: “A majority of members did not support it – JDC and I acknowledge and respect this decision.

“We must understand fully what the key reservations that have been expressed are and how we best resolve these concerns.”

The newly-appointed chair Dr McCourt replaces former chair Johann Malawana, who resigned from the post earlier this week following the referendum result. The BMA had previously urged its members to consider accepting the deal after senior sources at the BMA had indicated that there is a reduced appetite for continuing the dispute in the climate of uncertainty following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

Credit: Rohin Francis, Creative Commons

Image Credit: Rohin Francis, Creative Commons

Strike action

The long-running dispute has seen a series of six strikes held this year, including the first-ever all out strike, the combined result of which resulted in tens of thousands of delayed appointments and operations across England. Despite these cancellations, the industrial action has been supported by significant numbers of the general public, thousands of whom joined doctors and other medical staff to take part in protests across the country.

Confidence needed

Dr McCourt says it had been decided that “the best way forward” was to agree a deal in which trainee doctors had confidence.

She says: “By choosing this route, rather than building on progress made and addressing the outstanding issues which led to a rejection of the contract by many junior doctors, the Government is simply storing up problems for the future.”

In a statement, Mr Hunt says his decision to progress with the contract deal agreed is “not a rejection of the legitimate concerns of many junior doctors about their working conditions”.

Speaking in the House of Commons earlier this week, Hunt said the decision had been a “difficult” one but he had been left with no choice.

Credit: Ted Eytan, Flickr

Image Credit: Ted Eytan, Flickr

Imposition to “end uncertainty”

Hunt has ruled out further negotiations regarding the contract, but adds that he is open to talks about implementation. He says: “While we do now need to proceed with the implementation of the new contract to end uncertainty, my door remains open to her or whoever takes over her post substantively in September.”

Dr McCourt said the BMA would be consulting members before deciding on what happens next.

“The BMA has always been clear in its desire for a negotiated end to this dispute and I am committed to delivering on this,” she adds.

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