Doctor contract negotiations stall

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Published: Friday 17th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Consultant and junior doctor contract talks have stalled due to what the British Medical Association said were Government demands that could have jeopardised patient and doctor welfare.

The BMA said the Government has been “increasingly focused on achieving political priorities” and that the negotiations had stalled because of inadequate safeguards against excessive working hours.

The association said the Government failed to provide credible evidence on how consultants could safely increase the provision of seven-day services and how it would be funded.

It said the Government also proved unwilling to introduce proper safeguards to prevent a return to doctors in training working dangerously long hours.

The BMA said this is despite the fact it proposed a number of solutions that would cost no extra money.

BMA council chairman Mark Porter said: “We always knew the talks would be challenging, given the current financial climate and the Government’s political priority to end public sector pay progression.

“Yet the Government has been increasingly focused on achieving political priorities at the expense of appropriate safeguards to ensure patient safety and the welfare of doctors.”

He added: “We could not agree to changes that have the potential to undermine the safety of patients or the welfare of doctors.”

But NHS Employers, the organisation that has been negotiating with the BMA, expressed surprise and disappointment, and said it learned the latest news on Twitter.

Gill Bellord, director of employment relations and reward at NHS Employers, said: “We are surprised to hear that the BMA junior doctors committee appear to have withdrawn from the discussions without notice and are communicating by Twitter.

“It is a disappointing way to conclude 18 months of serious discussions which were intended to ensure safer working hours for doctors in training, as well as providing them with stability of pay and agreed work schedules that take account of educational needs.

“Underpinning all of which is the need to deliver safe care for patients.

“And we are amazed to leave consultant negotiations, having agreed further urgent work in next few days by both parties, only to learn by Twitter that the BMA has withdrawn without notice from serious discussions like these.”

BMA consultants committee chairman Paul Flynn said the association continued to support the need for more seven-day services being available, with urgent and emergency medicine being the priority areas for investment.

But he added: “Consultants already work across seven days providing emergency care 24/7, with almost nine in 10 working evening and weekends on top of their normal working hours.

“Stretching existing services across seven days also requires more nurses, diagnostic and support staff, as well as community services to be in place at a time when the NHS is facing huge financial pressures.

“Despite this the Government has failed to produce any plans on how it will resource this massive expansion, and without this consultants are not prepared to sign up in the dark to a plan that would force them to work dangerously long hours, compromising patient safety or leading to weekday services having to be scaled back as there simply won’t be enough doctors to staff them.”

Kitty Mohan, who co-chairs the BMA junior doctors committee, said that some junior doctors are still working 90-hour weeks, “leaving them exhausted and burnt out”.

She said: “By refusing to ensure that safeguards are in place, the Government has failed to protect patients and junior doctors from unsafe and gruelling working patterns.”

Ms Mohan said junior doctors are asking that they have “the basic guarantees” on safe working hours, training, fair pay and “respect for the right to a life outside of work, which should be the bare minimum for any employee”.

She added: “If the Government is serious about increasing the number of people coming into medicine and if we want to stem the flow of young doctors leaving the NHS to work abroad, they need to address these issues urgently.”

Consultant representatives from Wales and Scotland did not take part in the negotiations after deciding a UK-based approach was not in their best interests, the BMA said.

However, the Welsh government recently indicated it wished to join the talks.

The BMA said it has emailed members to update them on developments and next steps.

Published: Friday 17th October 2014 by The News Editor

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