Junior doctors strike for the fourth time as RCPE call for inquiry into the ‘crisis’

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Image Credit: Rohin Francis, Creative Commons

Junior doctors across England have embarked on a fourth day of industrial action over the government’s decision to impose a new contract, which has resulted in around 5,100 postponed procedures and operations.

The 48-hour walkout began at 08:00 this morning and is the fourth time junior doctors have resorted to emergency care only strike action since the dispute over changes to working conditions and pay began last year. Despite numerous attempts at negotiation between representatives from the Department of Health and doctor’s union the British Medical Association (BMA), talks broke down before any agreement was reached. A final offer of terms was made by the government in February, but was rejected by the BMA.

Extra pressure on NHS “deeply regrettable”

NHS England says it will continue to do “everything possible” to minimise the impact of the action and ensure safe emergency care is being provided. Dr Anne Rainsberry, National Incident Director for NHS England, describes the additional pressure on the NHS as “deeply regrettable”. She adds: “As always, the safety and care of patients is our number one priority and everything possible is being done to make sure patients will still be able to access urgent and emergency services.”

The dispute reached a new low when Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that the government intended to impose the new contract later this summer without any further discussion or negotiation with junior doctors and the BMA.

In response to the declared imposition, the BMA says it has launched a judicial review, which seeks to challenge the lawfulness of the Health Secretary’s decision to impose the contract, based on what the BMA says was the “government’s failure to pay due regard to the equalities impact”.

According to the Department of Health’s own Equality Analysis, the new contract could impact badly on junior doctors who are lone parents – disproportionately women – but could potentially benefit those who have partners. It states that “any indirect adverse effect on women is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

Call for inquiry

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) is calling on the government to hold a Health Select Committee inquiry into what it describes as the “crisis” surrounding the contract dispute. 

Professor Derek Bell, RCPE President says: “The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh supports a negotiated solution to the current dispute over the junior contract. The situation should not have escalated to this level as matters of this importance can only be resolved in a sustainable way through negotiation.

“The publication of the new contract and the Equality Analysis last week merely heightened concerns, particularly for those working less than full time, who are disproportionately women.

“The College believes that an urgent inquiry by the Health Select Committee could help resolve the current impasse and restore stability within the junior doctor workforce in England.

“If we do not resolve this dispute, the impact on our patients, the NHS workforce and the long term sustainability of the NHS will be profound.”

“Plummeting” morale

Image Credit: Rohin Francis, Creative Commons

Image Credit: Rohin Francis, Creative Commons

Dr Katherine Walesby, Chair of the RCPE’s Trainees and Members’ Committee, says: “Morale in the workforce has plummeted and the decision to impose a contract that has not been agreed by both sides is exacerbating the situation.

“The Government’s Equality Analysis has only added to concerns for those working less than full time, particularly women, and goes against progress that has been made in relation to gender equality in the NHS and further afield.

“We have a duty to our doctors in training, the general public and our patients to ensure that all the issues around the junior doctors’ contract and the potential longer-term and wider impact on the medical workforce and safe patient care are addressed.

“I hope that a comprehensive and independent inquiry by the Health Committee would enable us to move forward.”

The next round of industrial action is scheduled to take place between 08:00 and 17:00 on April 26 and 27, with one crucial difference – for the first time in the history of the NHS, emergency cover across A&E, emergency surgery and intensive care departments will not be provided by junior doctors.

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