‘We want a safer, better NHS for everyone...’

Ben Gummer
Ben Gummer

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Today junior doctors will begin unprecedented strike action at the urging of their union, the British Medical Association, writes Ben Gummer, Minister for Care Equality.

That action that will see emergency cover withdrawn from our hospitals for the first time by half the clinical workforce.

While the NHS has been preparing over these past few weeks and consultants will provide cover, this will inevitably impact on patients.

In our manifesto, we made a commitment to delivering a safer, seven-day NHS. Our aim is that everyone should receive the same quality of service regardless of whether it’s 2pm on a Saturday or 2pm on a Tuesday.

We want an NHS where it doesn’t matter which day of the week you get ill - whether you need to see a consultant, have an urgent diagnostic test, or get the green light to be discharged from hospital.

Last month, we announced the terms and conditions of the new junior doctors’ contract.

I know there is a lot of anger amongst many junior doctors across Portsmouth – in some ways inevitably given the BMA have told their members they would suffer a 30 per cent pay cut and then balloted for strike action before hearing the proposals.

But in my view, this week’s strike action is totally disproportionate.

Alongside the GMC, a range of NHS leaders have been clear that removing emergency cover puts patients at risk.

Even Johann Malawana, who is leading the junior doctors’ strike, has argued that his colleagues should not withdraw emergency care from paediatrics during a full walkout.

The tragedy is that the government has exhaustively pursued all options in our attempt to reach a negotiated agreement with the BMA.

We have been talking to union leaders for years, holding over 75 meetings and making over 73 compromises within a contract that was 90 per cent agreed with the union. It is not credible for the BMA to now call for imposition to be lifted when they refused to negotiate on the one remaining issue of Saturday pay that stood in the way of a negotiated settlement.

We had no choice but to proceed with proposals that are a good deal for junior doctors and have been endorsed by NHS leaders. Let me tell you about the new contract.

It is not a cost cutting exercise. It will mean on average a 13.5 per cent basic pay rise and means no junior doctor working within contracted hours – that’s 99 per cent of the workforce – will see a pay cut. Higher basic pay will also mean increased contributions to pensions and higher maternity pay.

The new contract will reduce the maximum number of hours doctors can work from 91 to 72 in any one week.

In short, this new contract is fairer for junior doctors, safer for patients and will help to create a fully seven-day NHS.