The Society for Acute Medicine (SAM) has today called on senior medical leaders to “stand up” to health secretary Jeremy Hunt and hold the government to account ahead of next week’s planned industrial action by the British Medical Association.
It has warned performance is already at “rock-bottom” and called the junior doctor contract issue a “key battleground” in defining the future of the NHS – with failure to find a satisfactory outcome likely to have “profound and long-lasting” consequences.
“If only our most senior figures would stand up and say “Jeremy, you have got this wrong”.
“When dialogue and arbitration have failed we still need to move forward. In the current junior doctors’ dispute, the time has come for strong leadership from the most senior people within our profession.
“The junior doctors’ case is robust and credible; they are the righteous ones. Their frustration and anger is well-documented. They have even been supported by Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chair of the Parliamentary Health Select Committee.
“Failure to negotiate a satisfactory outcome will have profound and long-lasting consequences for the NHS. In acute specialties we already face a massive recruitment crisis and many hospitals struggle to staff on-call rotas.
“Does anyone really think that doctors will want to work out-of-hours even more when the fabric of the NHS collapses around them, as was so clearly apparent this winter?
“We believe that the current dispute is a key battleground in defining the future of the NHS. In acute and emergency care we are already at rock-bottom in terms of performance. It is hard to say if we are already broken. Failure to recognise the long-term dedication of junior doctors might just tip us over the edge.
“SAM’s specific frustration is centred on Jeremy Hunt’s call for more weekend working. His interpretation of data linking excess weekend mortality to numbers of junior doctors at work is viewed by many of us as wrong.
“Of more concern is the government’s failure to acknowledge that, in many hospitals, we already have enhanced weekend services.
“SAM actively promotes seven-day services for our patients. We know that weekend services should be improved but we are also aware of the financial constraints within the NHS. To deliver better weekend services, we need a sustainable clinical model.
“SAM’s experience in this area should be shared as a matter of urgency with both the government and NHS leaders. We await the call.
“The impending full walk-out is a huge concern. The GMC and Sir Bruce Keogh are right in pointing out the risk to patients. However, they must also know that junior doctors need their support.
“We call on our most senior medical leaders to publicly express their support for junior doctors in an equally robust way to their condemnation of strike action.
The BMA’s decision for a full walkout next week is a massive decision. Junior doctors currently enjoy significant public support.
“On a normal day there are naturally many hundreds of deaths in our hospitals. The fear is that deaths during the periods of industrial action will be wrongly attributed to the strike and blamed on junior doctors. Maintaining public support is paramount. We sincerely hope that the BMA has got its strategy right and not played its trump card too soon.
“During the previous days of strike action, the dedication of non-striking staff to maintain safe services has been phenomenal. The public need to be aware that acute medicine consultants and their wider teams have plans in place to maintain a safe and efficient service.
“No one wants to be in the current situation. The dilemma facing junior doctors is unimaginable. However, the BMA and junior doctors know that the contract dispute is more complex than issues relating to terms and conditions of employment.
“They are taking a risk, a risk that is tearing their emotions apart, but a risk that might save a crumbling NHS which they all sincerely believe in.
“We again call on the medical leaders who criticise the strike to look more objectively at the junior doctors’ case. To hold the government to account and to ask why junior doctors who care so much about their patients have been forced into this dilemma.
“We urge our leaders to reflect on the fact that the NHS, especially acute and emergency services, is buckling on a daily basis, irrespective of strike action.
“The BMA has offered to call off next week’s strike if the imposed contract is withdrawn. We now call on Jeremy Hunt and the NHS leadership to show equally good faith by accepting the BMA’s offer and returning to the negotiating table.
“If senior NHS leaders show a change in direction in their position towards junior doctors it will not be perceived as a sign of weakness, instead it will display strength and courage as we start to rebuild the NHS.”
Dr Mark Holland (president), Dr Nick Scriven (vice-president), Dr Hannah Skene (secretary) and Dr Susan Crossland (treasurer) on behalf of the Society for Acute Medicine.