MPs call for junior doctors contract trial


A group of cross-party MPs has called on Jeremy Hunt to trial the new junior doctors contract in a small number of trusts in a bid to prevent next week's all-out strike.

Labour's Heidi Alexander, Conservative Dr Dan Poulter, Lib Dem Norman Lamb and the SNP's Dr Philippa Whitford told the Health Secretary in a letter that they want an independent evaluation of the so-called "weekend effect" which sees higher mortality rates for patients admitted at weekends.

The move comes after the Health Secretary announced he would impose the contested contract, whether or not it had the support of the British Medical Association (BMA).

The letter explains that concerns have been raised about the impact of the contract, were it imposed, and said it believed the BMA would not go ahead with next week's strike if the Government agreed to the proposal.

A BMA source said that if the Government agreed to limited trials of a pilot of the contract, representatives would be prepared to meet them to discuss the possibility of calling off the strike on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The MPs write: "You will be aware that medical leaders, royal colleges and patient groups, have said the imposition or unilateral introduction of the contract is the wrong approach and risks permanent damage to the future of the medical workforce.

"If it remains your intention to introduce this new contract, we believe it should be piloted in a number of trusts/across a number of deaneries and for its impact on patients, staff and the "weekend effect" to be independently evaluated."

An evaluation would lead to a "real understanding of the problem" so targeted changes can be made and a pilot would allow for misunderstandings about the contract to be cleared up.

The Government said it had 75 meetings with the BMA and three years of talks, and delaying reform further would mean not taking an important step in improving weekend care.

A spokesman said: "We have always said that we want to introduce this contract in a phased way - for around 11% of junior doctors from August - precisely so any initial problems can be ironed out. That's why this is simply ill-informed political opportunism from the same Labour Party responsible for the flawed contracts we have now?."