The British National Health Service found itself on the brink of crisis Sunday, as a clash between unions and government could result in the first ever full junior doctors walkout in the NHS’ 67-year history, according to the Telegraph.
The Junior Doctors Committee of the British Medical Association has drawn up plans for escalating strikes in protest against work contracts that will be imposed upon doctors by health secretary Jeremy Hunt. The new contracts are scheduled to come into force August.
In the U.K., junior doctors are qualified medical practitioners who work while in postgraduate training to become a consultant or a general practitioner.
Previous BMA strike action against the new contracts have specifically kept emergency care in place. A full walkout of junior doctors would have a much wider impact, but this point would only be reached after previous strike action had not affected the outcome.
“JDC has made the clear decision that further industrial action is inevitable and that we will consider escalating any action to achieve our aim to end the imposition,” said Dr. Johann Malawana, committee chairman, in an email to members of the union.
Among other changes, the new contract will cut the number of hours marked as “premium hours,” which junior doctors can work to increase their salary. Working these hours will no longer result in extra pay, and junior doctors may find themselves working more weekend shifts than on their current contract without the same compensation.
Junior doctors say the new contract would mean working on average 30 percent more hours for 11 percent more pay.
Hunt’s decision to impose the contract, following the BMA’s rejection of the government’s “best and final” offer, angered those affected and led to threats that they would quit the NHS and work elsewhere.
The ruling Conservative Party’s 2015 election manifesto called for a “seven day NHS” expansion of staff and services, citing figures that showed patient death rates at NHS hospitals were higher on the weekend. However, critics argue that patients admitted on the weekend tend to be sicker, skewing data.