‘All out’ strike will harm patients, says Hunt as he rules out contract imposition climbdown

Junior doctors on strike
Credit: Roger Blackwell

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says junior doctor’s strikes - that could see emergency care withdrawn for the first time in history - pose a serious risk to the safety of patients who depend on the NHS.

In a letter to Dr Mark Porter, the British Medical Association’s (BMA) Council Chair, Mr Hunt urges doctors to “reconsider whether the action being taken is proportionate or appropriate”. While stressing that the controversial decision to impose the contract without full BMA agreement would still be going ahead, he states that he hopes to “rebuild trust” on a range of other issues relating to terms and conditions for junior doctors.

Requesting that the upcoming industrial action – which is due to take place between 8 am and 5 pm this Tuesday, April 26 and again on Wednesday, April 27 – be called off, Mr Hunt requested a meeting with Dr Porter to “discuss a better way forward”.

Ambulance leaving hospital

Frontline emergency services to be affected

The ‘all out’ strike will for the first time impact on junior doctor staffing levels across the whole of the NHS, including cover for frontline emergency services such as A&E departments, intensive care units, resuscitation teams, maternity care and emergency mental health intervention services.

NHS England says around 112,000 outpatient appointments have already been postponed and more than 12,000 elective operations have been rescheduled as NHS England prepares to free up staff to provide emergency cover during the strike in an effort to minimise disruption to emergency care provision.

Dr Anne Rainsberry, National Incident Director for NHS England, says the postponements and cancellations will undoubtedly affect patients and says the action was taken with “enormous regret”.

She adds: “We have focussed our efforts on essential services including emergency care but the effects of this action will be felt far and wide with thousands of people having their operations postponed and their care disrupted for which we sincerely apologise.”

The strike, if it goes ahead as planned, will be the fifth round of industrial action arranged in protest at a new junior doctor’s contract, due to be imposed by the government later this year. Junior doctors and their supporters have taken to the streets in their thousands over recent months to protest against the new contract, which they say is both “unfair” and “unsafe”.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA Council Chair says in his response to Mr Hunt: “While we remain committed to reaching a negotiated settlement, this cannot take place with the threat of imposition hanging over our junior doctors’ heads.”

male doctor

Strike action could be stopped “immediately”

Dr Porter adds that the ‘all out’ strike action will be called off “immediately” if Mr Hunt and the Department of Health agree to lift imposition of the contract and resume negotiations.

The Department of Health says the new contract was previously “90% agreed by the BMA”, and the principal unresolved issue relates to Saturday pay – but Dr Porter disagrees.

Patient care and long-term future of NHS a “concern”

In his letter, Dr Porter goes on to describe the imposed contract as “deficient” and “distrusted” in that it fails to address the issues of work-life balance, excessive working hours and improvements to training, in addition to workforce and funding implications in relation to the provision of seven-day services. He adds that patient care, the long-term future of the NHS and recruitment and retention of doctors remain a concern for the BMA.

The BMA’s Junior Doctor Chair, Johann Malawana, wrote to the Health Secretary early last week to request a meeting in what he described as a “bid to avert industrial action”. In a written response to that request, Mr Hunt said a change or delay to imposition of the new contract was "not now possible”.

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