BMA chief accuses Government over 'intractable' dispute with junior doctors


The Government has created a "bitter and intractable" dispute with junior doctors and has forgotten the meaning of negotiation, doctors' leaders have said.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the Government risks losing the "hearts, the minds and often the bodies of a generation of junior doctors".

The doctors' union said the new contract for junior doctors would fuel a recruitment crisis in the health service.

Last week, junior doctors staged the first all-out strike in the history of the NHS over the implementation of the contract.

Speaking at an urgent meeting called by doctors' leaders to discuss the "funding and workforce crisis across the UK health service", BMA chairman Mark Porter said the Government was trying to "undermine trust in doctors".

"The Department of Health thinks it has an overview, but it's more that of a distant satellite, in a strange orbit all of its own," Dr Porter said.

"How else can you explain the biggest thing it has done to the health service this year - creating a bitter and intractable dispute with junior doctors, which wiser heads in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast have managed to avoid?

"Today is not about the junior doctors' contract dispute. It's about defining and addressing the wider crisis in workload and morale. But it's a symptom of that crisis. And it's a crisis entirely of the Government's making.

"From outer space, the Government sees a contract that is all but agreed. Here on Earth, we see a contract that fuels the recruitment crisis in the most intense specialties, that cannot ensure safe hours, and by the Government's own admission has an adverse effect on women. It is a contract that breaks relationships and cannot build them.

"Here's a solution. We'll both back away from the cliff edge, restart talks and start the work of rebuilding junior doctors' confidence. They just want to serve their patients in a health service that supports them.

"The Government must drop its cynical and corrosive tactic of trying to undermine trust in doctors. Making laughable accusations that doctors don't work weekends, or that GPs don't do out of hours, doesn't soften us up in negotiations. And it doesn't fool the public either. It just squanders the morale of decent people.

"The Government has forgotten what negotiation even means. Have you seen what it's trying on with the junior doctors? It's not just a contract imposed by a Government that refuses to talk, but it's a contract that will get rid of the need to ever talk again."

He added: "If they can't reach agreement, they bully, they impose and they overrule. And they design a contract to end all contracts.

"How very neat. But not so neat when you lose the hearts, the minds and often the bodies of a generation of junior doctors. Like the doctor on our website who told us he cherishes the values of the NHS but that he felt 'pushed' towards Australia when he saw the contract plans.

"Is that going to be the legacy of this Government? That it pushed doctors away from their patients and away from the health service?

"Three-quarters of medical students in England said in a recent survey that they were likely to follow a career outside the NHS. Who will care for the patients they would have cared for?"

Last week junior doctors went on all-out strike for two working days.

For the first time in the history of the NHS, junior doctors in England stopped providing emergency care during the walkouts.

More than 125,000 appointments and operations were cancelled and will need to be rearranged.

This figure is on top of almost 25,000 procedures cancelled during previous walkouts.

The BMA is urging Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to halt the imposition of the contract and reopen negotiations.

The union has not made any decisions about how to proceed.