Doctors threaten to quit NHS in anger at new contract
By Laura Donnelly HEALTH EDITOR
JUNIOR doctors are threatening an exodus from the NHS despite being offered premium rates for working one Saturday a month. The Government’s negotiator last week said he was “really disappointed” by the failure of the British Medical Association (BMA) to respond to what he thought was a “breakthrough moment” in talks. Jeremy Hunt pledged to impose a new contract on junior doctors, after the failure to reach agreement with unions. The new deal will mean an average 13.5 per cent rise in basic pay, with a 19 per cent rise in starting salaries. After two strikes by junior doctors, the sticking point in negotiations remained the rates of pay for working Saturdays, which the Government intended to treat as a normal working day. However, in a final concession, the Government offered a 30 per cent boost for any doctor working one or more Saturdays a month, meaning regular rates would only apply if they work fewer. Its chief negotiator said this meant more than half of junior doctors would receive “time plus 30 per cent” for any Saturdays worked, with only those asked to do very occasional Saturdays expected to do them on normal pay. Dr Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctor committee chairman, said the union was now considering “all options open to us” warning of a “real risk that some will vote with their feet”. This could mean further strikes – with an option of a full walkout by junior doctors, an attempted legal action by the union, or moves towards mass resignations. On social media, junior doctors said they were considering emigrating, while others staged angry protests outside the Department of Health headquarters in Whitehall. Labour accused Mr Hunt of “behaving like a recruiting agent for Australian hospitals” while the Labour Welsh health minister tried to lure medics over the border. Mark Drakeford said there were no plans to impose a contract in Wales, promising disillusioned medics “a very warm welcome”. In a Commons statement, Mr Hunt said the BMA had proved “unwilling” to show flexibility and compromise. The 13.5 per cent increase in basic salary is higher than the 11 per cent offered in November, with three quarters of doctors seeing their take-home pay increase, the Health Secretary said. Furthermore, the new contract would cut the maximum number of hours worked every week by junior doctors from 91 to 72. No doctor would ever be rostered two weekends in a row, Mr Hunt added. Sir David Dalton, chief government negotiator said he was bitterly disappointed by the union’s decision to rebuff the deal offered. He said: “The deal was that if you work just one Saturday a month you would be entitled to get premium pay for any Saturday you worked. “It meant more than half junior doctors would get it. I thought that was a really significant move but it didn’t impress the BMA at all. I think it is really sad that this is where it has ended up.” He said the proposals aimed to ensure that doctors who had to work regularly at weekends gained the most, with only those working very occasional Saturdays expected to do so on regular rates. The first new contracts would be imposed in August, on all new doctors graduating from medical school, and those changing contracts, during their training. Around 760 doctors in the first four weeks of the year applied to the General Medical Council for certificates to practise abroad, nearly double the usual number, the Daily Mail reported.