Junior doctors to ballot for industrial action over 'unsafe' contract reform

Junior Doctors

The British Medical Association has announced that it will be asking its 53,000 junior doctor members to ballot on proposed industrial action relating to contract changes on the same day that thousands took to the streets of Westminster to protest against the reform.

The proposed contract changes are expected to be imposed on trainee doctors in England from August 2016, and are likely to include a change to the classification of 'normal' working hours, currently set between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday. Normal working hours are expected to be expanded to between 7am and 10pm Monday to Saturday, which means additional pay for working longer, unsociable hours will be lost - equivalent to a pay cut of around 15%.

A reform of the current guidelines, introduced in the 1990s, was first proposed in 2012 but have been repeatedly shelved after a breakdown in negotiations, most recently in July this year. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has proposed a meeting with the BMA this week in an attempt to finally reach a solution.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, the body responsible for negotiating contracts on behalf of the government, says its preferred position has always been to negotiate. He says: "As we have made clear, there is a great deal still to discuss about how the profession is rewarded, including the increase in basic pay; the level of the new pay points; which hours would be unsocial; and how flexible pay premia would be deployed, including for doctors who do academic study and who change careers to a shortage specialty."

"Anger felt"

The BMA's junior doctor committee chairman Dr Johann Malawana says the decision to ballot "is a reflection of the anger felt by the thousands of junior doctors who have told us that the government’s position is not acceptable."

Surgery Operation

"The BMA has been clear that it wants to deliver a contract that protects patient safety and is fair to both junior doctors and the health service as a whole. We can only do this if the government is prepared to work collaboratively in a genuine negotiation.

He adds: "The contract they want to impose will remove vital protections on safe working patterns, devalues evening and weekend work, and make specialties such as emergency medicine and general practice less attractive even though the NHS is already struggling to recruit and retain doctors to these areas of medicine."

Dr Malawana says the high numbers of doctors contemplating leaving the NHS to work abroad should serve as a "serious wake up call" to the government, and could ultimately spell "disaster" for the NHS.

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