Below is the text of the speech made by Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, in the House of Commons on 18 April 2016.
This House has been updated regularly on all developments relating to the junior doctors contract, and there has been no change whatsoever in the Government’s position since my statement to the House in February. I refer Members to my statement in Hansard on 11 February, and to answers to parliamentary questions from my ministerial colleagues on 3 March, which set out the position clearly. Nevertheless, I am happy to reiterate those statements to the hon. Lady.
The Government have been concerned for some time about higher mortality rates at weekends in our hospitals, which is one reason why we pledged a seven-day NHS in our manifesto. We have been discussing how to achieve that through contract reform with the British Medical Association for more than three years without success. In January, I asked Sir David Dalton, the highly respected chief executive of Salford Royal, to lead the negotiating team for the Government as a final attempt to resolve outstanding issues. He had some success, with agreement reached in 90% of areas.
However, despite having agreed in writing in November to negotiate on Saturday pay, and despite many concessions from the Government on this issue, the BMA went back on that agreement to negotiate, leading Sir David to conclude that
“there was no realistic prospect of a negotiated outcome.”
He therefore asked me to end the uncertainty for the service by proceeding with the introduction of a new contract without further delay. That is what I agreed to, and what we will be doing. It will start with those in foundation year 1 from this August, and proceed with a phased implementation for other trainees as their current contracts expire through rotation to other NHS organisations.
Let me be very clear: it has never been the Government’s plan to insist on changes to existing contracts. The plan was only to offer new contracts as people changed employer and progressed through training. This is something that the Secretary of State, with NHS organisations as employers, is entitled to do according even to the BMA’s own legal advice. NHS foundation trusts are technically able to determine pay and conditions for the staff they employ, but the reality within the NHS is that we have a strong tradition of collective bargaining, so in practice trusts opt to use national contracts. Health Education England has made it clear that a single national approach is essential to safeguard the delivery of medical training and that implementation of the national contract will be a key criterion in deciding its financial investment in training posts. As the Secretary of State is entitled to do, I have approved the terms of the national contract.
The Government have a mandate from the electorate to introduce a seven-day NHS, and there will be no retreat from reforms that save lives and improve patient care. Modern contracts for trainee doctors are an essential part of that programme, and it is a matter of great regret that obstructive behaviour from the BMA has made it impossible to achieve that through a negotiated outcome.