Over the course of the last few months, we have reported on junior doctors in the United Kingdom taking part in industrial action, striking as a result of new contracts brought into force by the government.
Essentially this has been a dispute over pay and working hours with doctors stating that they will be expected to work longer hours for less pay.
So far, junior doctors have taken the following action:
- 12 January – junior doctor provided emergency care only for a period of 24 hours
- 10 February – junior doctors provided emergency care only for a period of 24 hours
- 9 and 10 March – junior doctors provided emergency care only on both days
- 6 and 8 April – junior doctors provided emergency care only on both days
- 26 and 27 April – junior doctors took part in an all out strike
Junior doctors, working with the BMA, planned a series of 5 day strikes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the first of which was to begin on 12 September 2016. This planned strike was suspended when senior doctors and NHS Leaders expressed growing alarm that the action was disproportionate and could endanger patient safety.
Prior to this proposed action, the GMC had expressed reservations in relation to the strikes but on 5 September 2016 it provided very strong advice to those junior doctors involved stating:
“We therefore do not believe that the scale of action planned at such short notice can be justified and we are now calling on every doctor in training to pause and consider the implications for patients.”
The statement provided went on to state:
“The GMC has powers under the Medical Act 1983 to investigate and apply sanctions to any doctor whose behaviour has fallen consistently or seriously below the standards required. Where we are presented with evidence that a doctor’s actions may have directly led to a patient or patients coming to significant harm, we would be obliged to investigate and if necessary take appropriate action.”
Whilst the 5 day planned strike was suspended, a group called Justice for Health, representing junior doctors in England, have launched an action in the High Court to try to stop the government from imposing the new contract which has been the cause of the industrial action as this new contract is due to come into force in October 2016.
Justice for Health was founded by five junior doctors.
The basis of Justice for Health’s claim is that the new contract for junior doctors is “unsafe and unsustainable” and Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, has acted unlawfully in that he is not authorised to decide the terms and conditions under which the NHS and other organisations employ junior doctors. Mr Hunt, they argue, is entitled to recommend the terms of any new contract, but that he has gone above and beyond his role and remit in enforcing the contract for all junior doctors.
It is also going to be argued that Mr Hunt’s imposition of the new contract has no rational foundation and is not necessary.
Justice for Health states that whilst junior doctors have spent the last year explaining why the proposed contract is flawed to Jeremy Hunt, he has continued to ignore the very real concerns faced by doctors and so they have now been left with no choice but to seek assistance from the courts.
Whilst industrial action by junior doctors is a controversial subject, it would appear that the British public is behind junior doctors, with thousands of people offering money to Justice for Health to assist them in brining their case to court.
Justice for Health’s case begins at this High Court today and will continue until tomorrow.
If you are a doctor seeking advice in relation to an investigation by your employer or by the GMC, please call 0161 827 9500 and ask to speak to Ms Charlotte Ellis. More information can also be found on our website www.burtoncopeland.com
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