This site is intended for health professionals only

Mr Hunt – drop the imposition and we can work together to implement a seven-day NHS

Junior doctors in England will start their two-day all-out strike tomorrow. The BMA has repeatedly said it would call off the strike if Jeremy Hunt’s threat to impose a contract on junior doctors was lifted. Does Mr Hunt have no care, consideration, responsibility for patients as he persistently, stubbornly and arrogantly refuses to talk to the BMA and avert this strike? 

When the present service is practically on its knees, it makes no sense to stretch it further

It will be the first time in the history of the NHS that junior doctors have walked out of accident and emergency units, urgent maternity services, resuscitation and mental health crisis teams. The reasons for such action, which is rare (the last juniors’ strike was in 1975 over similar issues), go deeper than pay. And what must not be forgotten is that 98% of the 37,000 juniors balloted by the BMA agreed on a full-out strike.

The blame for another junior doctors’ strike lies with Mr Hunt. The health secretary devoted time and energy smearing doctors and playing politics, when he should have been finding a just and fair solution. Mr Hunt’s tactics have throughout been aggressive, crude and mostly alienating. He tried – and failed – to divide juniors from their union. Trying to bully the juniors to accept unsafe working conditions is not going to cut any ice.

Before the last election, David Cameron promised ‘a truly seven day NHS’ in his election manifesto. However, it had one major problem: he didn’t have any money to fund this nor indeed has he defined what he meant by it. Let me remind you that the manifesto promised England would be ’the first nation… to provide a truly seven-day NHS… with hospitals properly staffed, so that the quality of care is the same every day of the week.’ Now what Mr Hunt is doing is to implement that manifesto promise by dropping properly staffed from his action plan.

The idea that Mr Hunt can conjure up an excellent week-round service by forcing already stretched junior doctors to work longer for less is a delusion. When the present service is practically on its knees, it makes no sense to stretch it further. Mr Hunt’s conduct in this dispute right from the beginning to the current controversy about his authority to impose the contract, been littered with dubious statistics, manipulation and misrepresentation to public and parliament alike.

Last Saturday, the health secretary wrote to Mark Porter, chairman of the BMA council, asking him to call off the strike and resume talks. Mr Hunt, it is very simple, you call of the imposition and BMA will respond immediately.

Please, Mr Hunt, the imposition of an unfair, unjust contract is a recipe for exodus of medics and this will kill any hope of ever providing a 7/7 NHS (there will be scores of medics who will follow what Dr Ben White has done in the full glare of media this morning and resign). There is nothing to be gained in this futile battle for anyone. Let’s work together to decide how we can provide more doctors, nurses and diagnostic staff to implement your seven-day world class NHS services.

Dr Kailash Chand OBE is the deputy chair of the BMA, and a retired GP