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Junior doctors lose High Court legal challenge against health secretary

Junior doctors have lost a legal challenge against the Government's unilateral junior doctor contract imposition.

The judicial review brought by junior doctor group Justice for Health saw a judge ruling in favour of the Government on all three counts, leaving the path clear for the rollout of the new contract.

The group had sought to challenge the transparency and rationality of the imposition, as well as health secretary Jeremy Hunt's power to impose a contract unilaterally when it is NHS Trusts which employ doctors.

But the High Court based this on Mr Hunt's claim he was not imposing the contract, but rather working with NHS employers to implement it.

Addressing Mr Hunt, today's High Court ruling said: 'It is noted that the press has again today referred to the contract potentially being “imposed” by you. As you know, references to “imposition” have been deployed to assert “wrongly” that you are not aware of your legal powers.

'To avoid further complaints of this sort, we suggest that it is best when addressing this issue to spell out that the new contract will be introduced by you working together with NHS employers.'

Justice for Health, which includes GP registrar Dr Francesca Silman, raised more than £150,000 through online crowdfunding in order to bring its case.

The group said in a statement: 'Mr Hunt’s last minute legal acrobatics have saved him from losing the case but bring no comfort to the thousands affected by his actions in the last year.

'He did not previously clarify his position when faced with thousands of cancelled operations, a devastated workforce or a health service in chaos, but instead, only when his actions faced High Court scrutiny.'

The Department of Health welcomed the 'clear decision by the judge that the secretary of state acted entirely lawfully'.

A spokesperson said: 'We must now move on from this dispute to the crucial job making sure that patients now get the same high standards of urgent and emergency care every day of the week, which involves more than the junior doctors contract.

'We urge the BMA to remove all threat of industrial action so we can work constructively with junior doctors to address their wider concerns and best recognise their vital importance to the NHS.

It comes as BMA’s Junior Doctor Committee recently called off a series of monthly industrial action, after concerns from doctors and patients about patient safety during the planned five day walkouts.

Readers' comments (25)

  • I don't think the headline is correct. It is not what the judgement says.

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  • the headline and article are rubbish as not what the court actually ruled. Hunt changed his stance at the last minute and they said he couldn't impose only introduce then up to trusts what contract they actually offer. He has no power other than persuasion.

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  • Never mind, there is a silver lining. Mr Hunt will save thousands of young people from the swords of GMC, litigation, CQC, manslaughter charges, complaints, moving 20 times in a career, poor pay compared to other profession, 90 hour weeks etc, because they will not become doctors.
    If you do become a doctor, you can have an impossible Contract imposed on you, with no duty of care to you whatsoever.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Yes, the interpretation of what the judge's statement is interesting.
    (1) This is a JR called upon by a group of brave junior colleagues sponsored by voluntary supporters against the big machinery of DoH led by the SOS. BMA actually declined the decision to go through a JR. These boys and girls already knew how hard this challenge was but were prepared to go for the impossible .
    (2)The word 'imposed' was cunningly used by the SOS to give the public the impression that this is the final conclusion and there is no more lawful negotiation . In fact , negotiations can go on forever. In fact , that struck the same cord when the Ellen McCourt and BMA JD committee said the SOS was avoiding them shortly before they announced a series of 5 days a week industrial actions.
    (3) Without this challenge , JH would never change this word 'imposed' in the eyes of the public and typically , he altered the stance just before the JR . This shameless , zero conduct is what should be exposed in the headlines. The judge would never say this contract cannot be recommended based on current arguments from both sides .
    (4) The media generally reported the whole thing as Junior Doctors defeated in court which had oversimplified this story.
    (5) These boys and girls still need our support and as I said, the battle is a long one and every butterfly effect counts......

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  • Your headline is somewhat misleading - the whole point of the judgement is that he accepts he is not and never intended to impose.

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  • Junior doctors, or for that matter, no doctor in the NHS can do anything about their contracts. All out strikes are not possible because the GMC will intervene with deregistration. Unfortunately, doctors are now legal slaves. The only remaining means for fair pay is - resignations, which will deter most.
    Retired GP.

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  • This is not democracy. This is imperialism.
    I think Uk should sort its own country out before invading othet countries.

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  • It is a worrying state of affairs when Drs consider themselves to be above the law and other health care 'workers' issue rally cries to person the barricades

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  • Anonymous 6:02pm - it looks that way to me too.

    Can this not in fact be seen as a defeat for the Secretary of State in that it establishes that he does not legally have the power to impose the contract he seeks?

    NHS employers which are at least a short arm's length away from the political muscle directing them may be a little more flexible in negotiations. It will be interesting to see if this results in differing employment terms across the country as the BMA continues its activities.

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  • Since the doctors are paid by the taxpayer and not by Jeremy Hunt, I think the taxpayer should have the last word and my last word is that the 1974 Tory Heath Secretary Sir Keith Joseph (from Bovis Builders) engaged a senior gentleman from Sainsbury's (Mr Griffiths) to redesign the NHS management structure. Naturally enough, Mr Griffiths redesigned the management structure along the lines of a Sainsbury's national distribution network with national, regional, large area and local district functions which cost so much to run that successive re-organisations were needed to reduce, and eliminate tiers from, this heavyweight structure just to save money. How these two good private sector gentlemen came so to waste the taxpayer's money should serve as as severe warning not to allow any Secretary of State or any private business anywhere near the NHS. The Tories did it again in 1990 with their split between customer and shop increasing the administration charge on the NHS budget from 5% which is what used to be before all this meddling up to 15% and heading for 30% with commissioning which has not benefitted the patients or the NHS. The plain fact is that the Tories and their private businesses will always cost you more than you can afford. This taxpayer thinks that the contract between Hospital and doctors should benefit the patients and that means that the doctor should get enough sleep so as not to to be tired on the job and not be driven to a state of permanent inebriation or to leave the NHS for some kinder employer. The NHS also needs funding properly because, without this, it will make mistakes and cost lives.

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