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Junior doctors’ dispute goes beyond pay, Tory MP says

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h5363 (Published 06 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5363
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. 1The BMJ

The UK government’s threat to impose a new contract on junior doctors could have “unintended consequences” for the NHS if increasing numbers of skilled staff decide to leave the profession as a result, the chair of the House of Commons Health Committee has warned.

Sarah Wollaston, the former GP turned Conservative MP who leads the parliamentary select committee, also said that junior doctors’ grievances went “beyond pay” and were about staff feeling valued.

Speaking at a fringe session at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester on Monday 5 October, Wollaston told delegates that her own insight into the issue (her daughter is a junior doctor currently working in Australia) had increased her concerns about the effects of the current standoff between the BMA and the Department of Health for England.

She said, “The NHS has always benefited from junior doctors who spend a short period of time abroad and then come back and bring those skills with them. What’s different at the moment is the scale of it.

“My own daughter went with nine of her close friends, and [they] are working in a single hospital where they have yet to meet a junior doctor that is Australian. The hospital casualty department is almost entirely staffed by British trained graduates. That becomes a problem for the NHS, particularly if they don’t then return. We need to look at why.

“This [debate over the contract] goes beyond pay. The roots of this dispute go far deeper than that. It’s about how staff feel valued, about how they can organise their personal lives. The new junior doctor contract could have been a chance to address the wider issues. Pay is just the last straw.”

Wollaston’s comments came after fellow doctor and former Conservative health minister Dan Poulter launched a stinging attack on the government’s handling of the new junior doctor contract.1

In light of the ongoing dispute, Wollaston, the MP for Totnes, said she believed that negotiations over the contract should be reset to allow both sides back to the table and avoid an imposition that could spark an exodus from the profession. “There would be great unintended consequences if by pushing through a contract we end up paradoxically losing far more of our skilled workforce in a way that then means we can’t achieve the objectives that were the stated purpose of the contract in the first place,” she warned.

“It would be better now for both sides to step back from this and go back to the drawing board and look at this in the round.”

Wollaston added that she was very concerned that the current dispute was pushing junior doctors to consider industrial action, as this would be “bad for patients, bad for doctors, and bad everyone.” She added, “We should try to avoid that at all costs.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5363

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