Failure to tackle junior doctor crisis shows Tories are failing the NHS, says Abbott

NHS bill rally at Westminster

Medics have rejected the Government’s deal on new contracts for junior doctors after months of rows between the two bodies, amid claims that concerns about working times and pay have still not been dealt with. Labour’s new Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott described the latest development as a “sorry episode” in the Tories’ mishandling of the issue.

The British Medical Association refused to accept the renewed offer from the Conservatives, with a majority of 58 per cent of rejecting the deal. While the BMA recommended junior doctors accepted the new terms, many of it member doctors still had fears about the quality of care they would be able to provide for patients, their working lives and the future of the NHS.

Some changes had been negotiated from the original deal, including changes to the way weekend hours were scheduled. Instead of being categorised into normal hours and unsociable hours, with Saturdays being classified as a normal working day, doctors would be paid a supplement according to how many weekends they worked.

Dr Johann Malawana, the chair of the BMA junior doctors committee, who has now stepped down from the role, said  “the result of the vote is clear, and the government must respect the informed decision junior doctors have made. Any new contract will affect a generation of doctors working for the NHS in England, so it is vital that it has the confidence of the profession.

“There is much to do to in order to rebuild the trust that has been eroded over the last year. The government must now do the right thing, accept the outcome of this vote and work constructively with the BMA to address junior doctors’ concerns with the new contract.”

Abbott condemned the Government for failing to gain the support of doctors.

“Today is yet another sorry episode in the saga of the Government’s mishandled negotiations with junior doctors,” she said.

“It is disappointing that several months on, we still do not have a contract in place that junior doctors feel able to support.

“We need a government that can command the support of patients and professionals in the NHS and this Government has shown it can do neither. Waiting lists are growing, hospitals are in crisis and patient care is going backwards.

“The Tories are failing the NHS. They need to a find a resolution to this dispute as soon as possible. The Junior Doctors committee will meet tomorrow to decide how they take matters forward. Junior Doctors command the support of the British Public. It is clear that the public will have faith in its doctors, long after they have lost faith in this Tory government.”

Junior doctors have staged multiple strikes, three partial ones which only included routine care and one which included intensive and emergency care. Previously Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said his approach is the only way to create a seven day NHS, and has threatened to impose the contracts against the wishes of medics.

The dispute has being going on since last autumn, when Hunt proposed new contracts for junior doctors. They were criticised for extending “normal” working hours from 7am-7pm to 7am-10pm and classifying Saturday as a normal working day. They would also see those who took time out penalised, for example those caring for children or undertaking scientific research.

The deal comes on the anniversary of the NHS, which is 68 years old today. Many Labour figures are marking the anniversary, though some have used the opportunity to raise fears about Conservative privatisation of the service. 

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