Striking doctors defy dirty tricks

FORTY thousand junior doctors last week voted for strike action, with a majority of 98 per cent on a 76 per cent turnout, in protest at Government plans to impose new working conditions and pay structures.

The proposed changes would remove enhanced wage levels for weekend working and could lead to junior doctors being forced to work for long hours that would leave them too tired to make safe decisions about patient care.

They now plan to walk out on the 1st, 8th and 16th of December. They will be on standby to return to work if there is an emergency but they will not do any routine work.

Thousands of appointments and operations will have to be postponed unless the dispute can be settled before 1st December.

The doctors have accused the Government of refusing to negotiate with them and of using dirty tricks. In particular they are angry that Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of NHS England, has used the terrorist attacks in Paris to stoke public fears that the doctors’ strike could lead to unnecessary deaths if Britain were hit by a similar terrorist attack.

They also question whether Sir Bruce was in collusion with the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt when he wrote a paper earlier this year suggesting that up to 11,000 deaths could be attributed annually to weekend working practices in the National Health Service.

A letter to the Independent signed by 3,000 junior doctors said: “The insinuation that doctors would not return to work in the event of a major incident such as a terrorist attack, is not in keeping with the inherent duty that junior doctors have to serve the public.

“The use of the horrific attack in Paris to articulate your concerns is deeply disrespectful to those who lost their lives, their families and friends.

“At a time when an entire nation is mourning, the use of this event for political purposes is not in keeping with the dignity with which we would expect a senior medical leader to behave.”

The doctors say they have received advice from the General Medical Council (GMC) with regard to their responsibilities in the context of industrial action: “We are well aware of our professional obligations and responsibilities, and we hope that the GMC’s on-going communication with us satisfies some of your concerns.”

The letter was organised by Jason Sarfo-Annin, a junior doctor who is on a one-year secondment to Harvard as a Fulbright scholar. The letter also questions why the findings of a study by Sir Bruce, published in the British Medical Journal, appeared to have been made available to the Government in advance of its publication.


Junior doctors have also accused Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, of issuing misleading information about increased death rates in hospitals at weekends, when there are usually fewer doctors on duty.

This is because most NHS trusts do not usually schedule clinics, operations and other medical treatments and procedures at weekends — although there are now some exceptions to this. Accident and emergency units are always staffed 24 hours-a-day and seven days-a-week.

The junior doctors have called on Jeremy Hunt and challenged him to avert the strike by entering into talks with them at the mediation service Acas.

They said they had voted for strike action “with a very heavy heart”. “We are desperate to avoid this,” they said in a letter, seen by the Guardian. “It goes against our very ethos.”

Hunt said on Sunday that he could not rule out fatalities: “It is a very high-risk period for patients when doctors withdraw from providing emergency cover,” he told the Mail on Sunday.

He said he had the backing of David Cameron and George Osborne to face down the strike action, and claimed that the British Medical Association (BMA) junior doctors leader, Johann Malawana, and some “militant” supporters were trying to turn the contract issue into “an ideological dispute when the truth is it is about improving patient care at weekends, nothing more, nothing less.”

Hunt said that doctors could face being sanctioned by the GMC if they failed to ensure that there were safe arrangements in place for patient care if they withdraw their labour. He said: “The GMC guidance is very clear: doctors should satisfy themselves individually that there are safe arrangements in place for patients if they withdraw labour.”

A spokesperson for the BMA said: “The decision to take industrial action was not taken by a small group of people: it was a course of action voted for by 28,000 junior doctors, 98 per cent of those balloted on a turnout of 76 per cent of our membership.

“We regret the inevitable disruption that this will cause but it is the Government’s adamant insistence on imposing a contract that is unsafe for patients in the future, and unfair for doctors now, that has brought us to this point.

“Rather than attacking junior doctors, the secretary of state should be taking up the BMA’s offer to discuss how we resolve this dispute through Acas. It was disappointing that he appears already to have rejected this already.”