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Hunt says he will not be 'held to ransom' by doctors over seven-day access

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt launched a strong defence of the Government’s role in the junior doctors contract dispute, saying he will not be 'held to ransom' by the health profession over plans for a seven-day NHS.

Speaking at a Nuffield Trust conference today, Mr Hunt said that backing down from the junior doctors' contract dispute in light of the strike action organised by the BMA would have been the ‘wrong thing to do’.

This would have ‘set a precedent’ that groups can ‘hold patients and the Government to ransom by completely unreasonable behaviour’, he added.

Mr Hunt imposed the contract last month, after negotiations with the BMA's junior doctors' committee had broken down.

He admitted that the junior doctor contract was not only factor standing in the way of the Government’s plan - with other obstacles including the consultants contract and seven-day general practice - but said imposing the junior doctors contract was necessary to ‘move forward’.

Mr Hunt said: 'I have always been very clear that the junior doctors contract is a part of what we need for a seven-day NHS, but only one part, there are lots of other things. The consultants' contract, seven-day diagnostics, a seven-day social care system, seven-day services through general practice – all very important parts of that commitment.' 

’But in the end, we have to make important steps forward and the Government’s position was to sit down and say that we want to have a reasonable negotiation about having a modern contract for junior doctors that would improve care for patients.'

Mr Hunt said that 'despite a huge amount of effort, it was not possible to get any movement from the BMA'.

The health secretary added: 'I think if I had done anything differently, it would have been a very backward step, because it would have sent a signal to the service and to the country - that a group is able to hold patients and the Government to ransom by completely unreasonable behaviour.’

Mr Hunt added that he believed that in future, this would be looked back on as the ‘quality decade’ for the NHS, when difficult decisions were taken to improve the system.

His comments come as the BMA has said there will be further strike action against the junior doctor contract imposition and as GPs could threaten with mass resignations unless the Government comes up with an agreeable ‘rescue deal’ for general practice within six months.

Readers' comments (89)

  • What on earth does he mean by "held to ransom" ? There are two parties to a contract. He has produced a contract that the other side doesn't accept. Doctors could just as easily, and in his terms correctly, say that their livelihoods are being "held to ransom".

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  • If ever there was a time to consider the GP nuclear option - it is now.

    Survival of a 3rd world, chronically underfunded NHS or survival of general practice. What is your preference?

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  • And it's no good moaning that doctors won't accept your contract. Like all other areas of work people will look at the terms and conditions of employment and make a rational choice whether to accept it. It really is that simple. At the moment doctors in droves are looking at other options and you shouldn't be surprised. Market forces matey.

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  • I sincerely hope at least now our so called leaders wake up and give it back to this moron .
    Let him know that we cannot be held to ransom as well . Let him know in very clear language which he understands that he needs is more than we need . Ditch the contract and let's see what he does . Longer we take to do this, more time he gets to organise his buddies in taking over NHS . Many of us now have to the stage that we no longer care whether public supports us or not . Can't take this shit anymore.

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  • He is right.

    - Politicians represent the taxpayer.
    - The taxpayer wants the lowest cost highest quality service it can afford.
    - Some Taxpayers have told the state that they want a 7 day service.
    - Politicians have responded by making it a top priority.
    - The initiative is backed by many senior doctors (NHSE etc)
    - As the state doesn't want to pay more into the service naturally the staff has to take the brunt of the cost changes.
    - The Taxpayer and state have been clear - in order to achieve their goals (political)there has to be major changes to NHS staff T&Cs as the taxpayer does not want to spend anymore money.
    - NHS staff have a choice either stay and accept T&Cs or go(retire, locum, emigrate)

    the tactic is to let the BMA run out of steam there is a strike due next week - any mention of it in the paper ?no - that's because the taxpayer does not care. they have brexit and other issues on their mind. they know that only a handful of nhs staff will leave and those that stay will be compliant and docile. it isn't fair but if you want to keep the NHS you will have to agree to the T&Cs.

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  • I think this guy is mistaken . He truly believes , he did the right thing by insulting our junior colleagues and then spin it by misrepresenting them as an obstacle to seven days NHS when they are already working their hearts out . If there is one obstacle to your ambition , it's the dwindling economy !!

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  • Oh when oh when will we have a full walk out.As a profession we need to man up and soon.When dealing with bully you have to hit him hard.Where are our leaders we need to back the juniors with actions.THEY ARE THE FUTURE.If we don't help and support them all is finished.

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  • I do not see how "the health profession" can be seen as holding anyone to ransom - least of all Jeremy Hunt. As a collective group of professional people who work every day in the NHS we as simply stating that what is being proposed is unsafe and ultimately unworkable. If a true 7 day service is what the government want to introduce then there simply has to be the funding for this and most importantly the workforce for this. At present providing a 5 day service in General Practice is proving to be more and more difficult, and to increase this to a 7 day service without increasing the real numbers of people working (and the funding for this to be done) is not possible, without the quality and ultimately the safety of the service failing.
    If we disagree with Mr Hunt on this - as it would appear that a HUGE number of health professionals do, then surely it is our duty to tell him this, and also to resist changes which we as a profession feel are damaging and unsafe.
    Surely it is completely REASONABLE behaviour to resist something which you strongly feel is damaging and unsafe, and it is UNREASONABLE for the government to impose changes on a profession which collectively feels this.
    Further impositions will only make the situation worse, as many individuals in the workforce have simply has enough already, and I am sure will leave which will result in the whole situation worsening.
    If the government do want the NHS to continue then please could they listen to the people who actually work in it, and not just simply continue trying to deliver promises they made before the last election which are not currently deliverable.

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  • Do not feed the troll! This man is an irrelevance. The health service is nothing without the people who actually provide the service. Politicians like Hunt can sod right off. I'm sure there'll be another 10 health secretaries before I qualify!

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  • Dear Mr Hunt - The doctors have no intention to hold you 'for ransom' the doctors will just walk. Mass resignation is the ONLY way to deal with such character and such language. I hope BMA would refuse any dealings with him with regard to such attitude.

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