Junior doctors in England have lost their legal challenge against new contracts.
As the BBC reports, the NHS run group, Justice for Health (JfH) argued that the new contracts were both ‘unsafe’ and ‘unsustainable’. They also challenged Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s right to impose the contracts.
However, Mr Justice Green concluded that the Health Secretary had acted ‘squarely’ within his remit, while he had strongly encouraged NHS trusts to implement the new contracts he had not forced them to do so.
Justice Green said that ‘in principle’ employers were free to decide whether to force the new contracts on junior medics – a claim which JfH suggested would free trusts from the ‘shackles’ imposed by Mr Hunt’s planned timeline.
The rollout of the new contracts is due to start next week. There is no evidence that hospitals will not comply with this.
The court also considered whether Mr Hunt had been sufficiently transparent in his actions, and whether he had been irrational his belief that the new contract would improve care at weekends.
Mr Justice Green agreed with the government on both of these matters, saying Mr Hunt was entitled to believe the changes would have ‘some, material’ impact.
What will these changes mean for employees?
The new contracts will change the way in which doctors are paid for working evenings and weekends. Under the new terms, junior medics will now be paid supplements depending on how many weekends they work. This will replace the current system under which doctors are paid different amounts for working social and unsociable hours.
How has the issue developed over the past year?
The British Medical Association (BMA), has repeatedly condemned the plans as both unfair and unsafe. The Department of Health insists the new measures are needed to ensure adequate staffing in hospitals at weekends.
The BMA has held a series of strikes in recent months in protest against the changes. A further set of walkouts planned for October, November and December this year was later called off after concerns were raised over the impact on patient safety.
After negotiations between the two sides in May this year, a deal appeared likely. Mr Hunt said in July he would impose the new contracts after the medical students and junior doctor voted to reject the compromise.
What does the future hold?
In response to the verdict, a Department of Health spokesperson urged junior doctors to ‘move on’ from the contract dispute and focus on the wider issue of improving patient care at weekends.
She further encouraged the BMA to ‘remove all threat’ of industrial action so that both sides could work together to address junior doctors’ wider concerns.
In a statement on their website JfH has said that:
Whilst we hoped for the top result, we have met our initial goal to extract clarity from the SoS [Secretary of State] and will now move on.
However, they also say that they will continue to help the BMA fight against the ‘explotation’ of NHS staff.