The British Medical Association has announced three new bouts of industrial action and a judicial review over the government’s imposition of a new working contract, indicating that an end to the long-running saga is still some way off.
The Union is planning three 48-hours strikes in March and April during which junior doctors will only provide emergency care.
The move, it says, follows the “embarrassing revelation” that government appears to have failed to undertake an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) before making the decision to impose a new contract on junior doctors in England.
“In trying to push through these changes, the government failed to give proper consideration to the impact this contract could have on junior doctors,” the Union argues.
The Association has also notified Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of its intention to challenge the imposition in court, because it has “genuine concerns about the potential equalities issues which the new junior doctor contract poses”.
In a statement, the Department of Health said further strike action is “completely unnecessary and will mean tens of thousands more patients face cancelled operations - over a contract that was 90% agreed with the BMA and which senior NHS leaders including Simon Stevens have endorsed as fair and safe”.
“The new contract will mean an average 13.5% basic pay rise, and will bring down the maximum number of hours doctors can work,” it stressed, and urged junior doctors “to look at the detail of the contract and the clear benefits it brings”.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said further “disruption to patient care is unnecessary”, also also stressed that the final contract is “safe, fair and reasonable”.
Hunt using unverified data?
Meanwhile, in a further blow to Hunt, BBC News has reported that it understand that the health secretary’s claim that 6,000 deaths a year were caused by a lack of doctors working on the weekends - one of the key arguments for pushing a seven-day NHS - was based on unverified and unpublished data.
Emails from NHS England show that Hunt knew details of the study into weekend deaths at least two months before it was published in the British Medical Journal, and based the 6,000 figure, used repeatedly by the government in its junior doctor contract negotiations, on his own understanding of this data, according to BBC News.
When the study was subsequently published in September last year it actually concluded that around 11,000 deaths a year could be blamed on the so-called “weekend effect”, but the authors did stress that this figure could not be proven to be linked to staffing levels, it noted.
Labour is now reportedly calling for an investigation.