NHS England cannot guarantee patient safety in English hospitals if the BMA goes ahead with planned week-long junior doctor walkouts in the coming months, its chief executive has warned.
It has received assessments from all hospitals in England regarding the risk to patients, which are still being reviewed centrally, but Mr Stevens said there should be that it will ‘not be possible’ to ensure patient safety if junior doctors withdraw from emergency care during several weeks.
Mr Stevens was asked, in light of next week’s planned industrial action being suspended after NHS England raised safety concerns, whether NHS England would be ready for the forthcoming action over the next months, given the approaching winter and scale of the action.
The BMA has said that action over October, November and December will continue unless the Government stops its plans to impose the junior doctor contract.
Mr Stevens said: ‘We said to the BMA that the notice period for action next week was entirely inadequate based on what local hospitals were telling us. We have also… gone out to hospitals and asked them for their assessment of the extent to which patients can be kept safe – not just during what would have been next week’s action but during the subsequent actions that are proposed as well.
‘Those responses we received yesterday evening, and we are assessing those, but I think… it will not be possible to ensure that there will be no harm to patients even with several weeks’ notice, if we really are talking about multiple weeks of up to 50,000 doctors not being available for emergency care at hospitals across this country.’
Mr Stevens said that because of the ‘vital importance of junior doctors to the NHS cannot be underestimated’ it was ‘not just about the notice period’ but ‘about the impact that that action will have’.
He said he wanted to say nothing futher until hospitals have come back with updated assessments, but he added: ‘No good for patients will come out of the kind of action that is still on the table.’
Action was postponed amid criticism of the BMA’s stance from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges – which itself came under fire from member colleges, including the RCGP