THE BLOG

Safer for Patients, Fairer for Doctors

06/11/2015 16:41 GMT | Updated 06/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Junior doctors working in the NHS are among the best in the world. They are the leaders of tomorrow and with over 50,000 across the country, the backbone of medical care in our hospitals.

The debate around proposed reforms to their contracts has highlighted their passion and dedication. That's why this week's firm contract offer from the government and NHS Employers is important.

The government has been clear that our proposed reforms are about delivering a fairer, safer deal for doctors and patients. This proposal builds on the cast-iron guarantees that the government has already set out on better basic pay, a shorter working week and improving patient safety.

In order to deliver safe patient care around the clock, seven days a week to patients, we need a culture of safe working hours for NHS staff. The current junior doctors' contract incentivises long hours by rewarding those that work above and beyond the legal limit. Our proposal will change that.

Contrary to suggestions of a return to the long hours of the past, our proposals will reduce hours. The new contract will be based on no junior being required to work more than an average of 48 hours per week, with tougher limits on unsafe hours - including a new maximum working week of 72 hours, down from 91. Employers will be banned from scheduling any shifts over 13 hours too. This will all help to reduce burnout and improve patient safety, so junior doctors can deliver the very best care.

We are proposing an end to the 'week of nights', experienced by many junior doctors, with a new limit of four night shifts in a row and are introducing a new limit of five consecutive long days.

No junior doctor will receive a pay cut compared to their current contract either. Around three quarters of junior doctors moving to the new contract will see an increase in pay, with the remainder getting pay protection. There are a very small minority - around one per cent of junior doctors - who are forced to work excessive hours under the current contract and who will be better protected under the new contract against breaching hours limits. Junior doctors will get better basic pay based on progression through training instead of time served, a shorter working week and improved patient safety.

As the British Medical Association (the union for junior doctors) has now begun balloting its members for strike action, it's important to be clear about how we're making pay fairer.

We will remove the current situation where two doctors working very different hours can be paid the same. We will remove the complex banding payments system and replace it by paying doctors for hours worked. As opposed to misleading statements by the BMA, there will be around an 11% increase to junior doctors' basic pay - with proportionately higher pay for unsocial hours.

To support this offer, junior doctors can now log on to a pay calculator where they can work out projected pay. This can be found at www.nhsemployers.org

Everyone working in the NHS wants to give patients the same high quality care every day of the week and we know that junior doctors already work at weekends, providing good, safe care to patients.

But the current pay structures result in some hospitals rostering three times more senior cover during the week compared to the weekend. Junior doctors that do work weekends already often don't have the right level of support to deliver the safest care we all want.

We're completely committed to the values of the NHS - the same values that encourage aspiring doctors to take up a career in medicine. That is why we have stated that a new contract will be in place from August 2016. The government is very clear that it will not remove this timetable for putting in place a new contract. I hope this firm offer will allow junior doctors to make decision based on fact. Once again, we invite the BMA to come back to the table and negotiate on the detail of this offer to secure a deal that rewards doctors fairly and has safe care at its heart.

Over the next few weeks, junior doctors will be invited to briefing sessions with medical directors and HR directors at their NHS trusts over the next few weeks to elaborate on the offer I have laid out here.