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Junior doctors to ask lawyers if the NHS is in breach of human rights legislation

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 19 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2712
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. 1London

The BMA is to seek legal advice on whether the NHS is in breach of the Human Rights Act if junior doctors are rostered to work when they have already given advance notice of a special event.

Junior doctors have said that their requests for leave to attend “life events” such as weddings or family celebrations are routinely ignored and that they are expected to organise cover themselves.

Junior doctors voted at their annual conference in London on 16 May for advance requests to be honoured, even if locum cover was required. They also passed a motion calling on the BMA to commission legal advice as to whether ignoring such requests constitutes a breach of article 8 of the Human Rights Act—the right to private and family life.

Proposing the motion, Lottie Elliott, a specialty trainee in emergency medicine, said, “Junior doctors are people—we have lives, we have families, and most of us have friends. It is becoming increasingly evident that, despite giving advance notice of more than six weeks, staffing is not respecting their requests and [doctors are] expected to arrange swaps themselves.” She said that the situation was even more difficult when the rota consisted of fixed annual leave.

James Shelton, a trainee in trauma and orthopaedics, told the conference that he was getting married this month. “We are all people at the end of the day, we should have a right to a family life.”

However, Tom Berry, a trainee in general surgery, questioned which life events should be included. He also said that this was not what the Human Rights Act should be used for. But he added that he appreciated the spirit of the motion after seeing a colleague in her wedding dress with tears streaming down her face and a pager going off in each hand, as she was getting her dress fitted the day before her wedding.

Junior doctors usually have little or no say over when and where they work or when they take their holidays. Working conditions for junior doctors are a major source of tension between medical staff and employers, and last year negotiations over a new contract collapsed.

Andrew Collier, co-chair of the BMA junior doctors committee, said in a keynote speech at the conference, “Junior doctors are the bedrock of the NHS, we are a vital but undervalued part of the health service. So we say this to the new government: do not take the good will of juniors for granted; work with us not against us; if you value the NHS, value trainees.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2712

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