Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s decision to impose a contract on junior doctors is provocative and damaging and will inflame the current dispute rather than help to settle it.
I recognise the huge contribution junior doctors make to the National Health Service and the years of dedicated training they undertake so that they can work safely to look after our health.
Patients, doctors, the British Medical Association and the public want an agreed settlement. The Secretary of State for Health is standing in the way of an agreement by imposing his own settlement. This whole dispute could have been handled so differently.
It is the Health Secretary’s failure to listen to junior doctors and his misrepresentation of research about care at weekends that has created such ill-will.
Everyone, including the British Medical Association, agrees with the need to reform the current junior doctors contract to make it fit the needs of patients and professionals alike. But even many of the senior health service managers who the government claimed were calling for the negotiations to end and a settlement to be imposed, have now denied doing so. It is clearly a government decision and one that is not supported by the vast majority of people who work in and manage the health service.
It is a government decision that will destroy morale which is already at rock bottom and threatens chaos in the NHS for months and years to come.
Imposing a contract is a sign of failure.
As a shadow Cabinet member, I am unable to sign Early Day Motions in Parliament. However, I supported the Opposition’s motion on October 28 which urged the government to guarantee that no junior doctor will have their pay cut as a result of a new contract; and called on the government to put forward proposals which are safe for patients and fair for junior doctors.
I believe that, even at this late stage, the government must get back around the negotiating table with junior doctors. If it does not do so, it will underline how reckless it is prepared to be with our NHS and show that it is prepared to put patient care at risk in the service of its self-defeating attempt to impose its will on junior doctors.