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More than nine in 10 junior doctors are prepared to quit their jobs if “unsafe” new contracts are imposed on them by the Government, a shock survey reveals today.

About 93 per cent of 2,500 medics who responded to an online poll by London junior doctor Ben White said they would consider resignation if new working hours were introduced from August.

The findings, revealed today in the Evening Standard, came as experts from Cass Business School at City University submitted an incendiary briefing note to MPs warning of a catastrophic effect on patient safety and NHS staffing levels if the new contracts were forced through.

Junior doctors, including Dr Ruth Wood, protest outside the Department of Health. Pic by Jeremy Selwyn

Dr Ruth Wood was part of a junior doctors’ protest outside the Department of Health. Picture by Jeremy Selwyn for the Evening Standard

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Parliament two weeks ago that he had decided to impose the contracts in a bid to end a three-year dispute with the British Medical Association. The BMA responded this week by ordering three 48-hour walk-outs starting at 8am on March 9, April 6 and April 26.

Today’s unofficial survey, conducted via Facebook and mailing lists of medics, and independent of the BMA, asked junior doctors whether they were “prepared to consider resignation as action in the face of imposition of the contract in its current form”.

About 2,200 of the 2,500 doctors responding felt so strongly that they attached their names and medical numbers to their responses.

Dr White, who is a BMA “rank and file” member, said: “It clearly shows the strength of feeling among doctors across the country about the issue of imposition and what we feel is an unsafe contract.

“We [currently] cannot staff our rotas – doctors or nurses – adequately. This contract would worsen the situation. Doctors are acting as the canary in the mine: we are 54,000 whistle-blowers. Patient safety is at risk.”

The Cass Business School research, submitted to the Commons public accounts committee investigation into clinical staffing, warns a “pernicious circle of understaffing has already been established in the NHS”.

It highlights shortages, particularly in paediatric care, and the fact that doctors generally work beyond their shifts. It predicts the new contracts would “risk high fatigue and hence reduced health and well-being amongst doctors” and be unlikely to improve staff retention.

It states: “It is not feasible to deliver the new contract as current rotas cannot be upgraded to the promised higher quality.”

Yesterday junior doctors took a 50,000-signature petition to the Department of Health showing the scale of public backing for their cause.

The Department of Health has been invited to comment on the Cass Business School research.

It later reiterated its position on the “seven-day NHS”. It said in a statement: “There is clear, independent clinical evidence of variation in the quality of care across the week and working together with the NHS we are determined to tackle this problem. Part of the solution is making sure the right staff are available for all patients 7 days a week. 90% of the new contract for junior doctors was agreed with the BMA and has been endorsed as fair and reasonable by senior NHS leaders, including Simon Stevens.  We urge junior doctors to look at the detail of the contract and the clear benefits it brings.”

* See here for a Guardian article outlining a fall in the number of students applying to become doctors, and a rise in the number of doctors expressing an interest in working abroad.

 

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