Dan Poulter: Junior doctors rightly upset over contract

By Hugh Pym
Health editor

Image caption,
The government says the current contracts are "outdated" and "unfair"

A former Conservative health minister has criticised the Government's handling of controversial reforms to junior doctors' contracts.

Dr Dan Poulter, who is still an MP, says medics are "rightly upset" about proposed cuts to their pay.

He says in an article in The Guardian that the proposed new contract will discourage doctors from seeking careers in areas facing recruitment problems.

The Department of Health said his concerns were unfounded.

Dr Poulter was a minister at the Department of Health between 2012 and May 2015 and during that time was involved in contract talks with the doctors' union - the British Medical Association.

He claims that the proposed new contract which emerged over the summer is very different from what was discussed. A previous recognition that there had to be a better pay and work-life balance, he says, appears to have been lost.

The BMA refused to return to the negotiating table this summer because it argued the Government was not open to discussion on certain aspects of the planned new contract. It has said it will organise a ballot of members on industrial action.

Junior doctors in England argue that the proposed new contract, to take effect next year, will cut take-home pay by up to 15% and leave them open to excessive working hours which will endanger patient safety.

Image caption,
Doctors have been protesting over the proposed changes to their working hours and pay

Dr Poulter, who worked as a junior doctor in the south of England for 10 years across a range of specialities, agrees.

He says the contract the government is threatening to impose "raises the prospect of 90-hour weeks being written into rotas" and he adds this is "impossible to reconcile……..with safe patient care".

Ministers say they want to simplify complex arrangements which result in extra payments to reward unsocial hours and weekend working on top of the basic salary. They say that the overall pay bill will not be reduced. The Scottish and Welsh governments have opted not to overhaul junior doctors' contracts.

The Department of Health wants the BMA to return to talks.

A spokesman said: "These claims are incorrect. Our proposals will mean average pay will not go down and there is no intention to increase working hours. In fact, we want to offer more safeguards over total hours worked for junior doctors than ever before. We call on the Junior Doctors Committee to re-enter negotiations and work with us to put in place a new contract that's safe for patients and fair for doctors."

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