Junior doctors are putting themselves at risk from action by the General Medical Council if patients come to harm as a direct result of the planned stream of strikes recently announced by the British Medical Association, the regulator has warned.
The GMC is urging junior doctors who are considering industrial action in protest over the new working contract to "pause and consider the possible implications for patients," particularly the cumulative impact posed by the withdrawal of emergency cover and removing all doctors in training every day for five days every month.
"We know that doctors will again want to do their utmost to reduce the risk of harm and suffering to patients. However… it is hard to see how this can be avoided this time around," said Prof Terence Stephenson, chair of the GMC, in a statement. "We therefore do not believe that the scale of action planned at such short notice can be justified and we are now calling on every doctor in training to pause and consider the implications for patients."
Niall Dickson, GMC chief executive and registrar, also stressed that doctors "must make the care of their patient their first concern" and, referring to the 1983 Medical Act which governs the behaviour of all doctors practising in the UK, warned: "Where we are presented with evidence that a doctor's actions may have directly led to a patient or patients coming to significant harm, we would be obliged to investigate and if necessary take appropriate action".
From next week junior doctors will take to picket lines for five consecutive days - from 8am until 5pm every day - staging a wide-ranging walkout that will affect emergency as well as elective care. This is to be followed by five-day strikes every month this year.
"We are extremely concerned about the impact which this prolonged campaign of industrial action will have on patients' care and on the public's trust in doctors," the GMC said, adding that doctors taking part must take "reasonable steps to satisfy themselves about the arrangements being made during the period when they are withdrawing their labour".