Nursing unions have warned that the government’s imposition of a contract on junior doctors sets a “worrying precedent” for other parts of the NHS workforce.
Yesterday health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that the government would impose a new contract on junior doctors in England, after the government’s chief negotiator Sir David Dalton said there was “no real prospect” of a deal with the British Medical Association.
“Unions can’t have faith in any future negotiations if ministers just choose to impose what they want, when they want”
The move, which sparked widespread condemnation from healthcare unions, follows nearly three years of talks between the two sides over changes to unsocial hours pay arrangements and, more recently, a government election pledge to make the NHS a “truly seven-day service”.
Mr Hunt said: “The definition of a negotiation is a discussion where both sides demonstrate flexibility and compromise on their original objectives, and the BMA ultimately proved unwilling to do this.
“In such a situation any government must do what is right for both patients and doctors,” he said in a statement to the Commons.
“RCN members are increasingly anxious that there will now be moves to take their unsocial hours payments away as well”
Mr Hunt added that premium pay for Saturdays in the new junior doctors’ contract was “higher on average than that available to nurses, midwives, paramedics and most other clinical staff”.
But Unison general secretary Dave Prentis described the move to impose the contract on junior doctors as a “disaster for NHS industrial relations”.
“Unions can’t have faith in any future negotiations if ministers just choose to impose what they want, when they want,” he said.
Josie Irwin, head of employment relations at the Royal College of Nursing, warned that the imposition of the junior doctor contract set “a worrying precedent”.
“Like junior doctors, most nurses are already working seven days a week, and they agree that patient care on Saturday and Sunday should be the same as on a Tuesday,” she said.
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Ms Irwin noted that nurses’ pay had fallen 14% in “real terms” from 2010-15 and, as a result, many relied on their unsocial hours payments to “make ends meet”.
“Our members are increasingly anxious that there will now be moves to take their unsocial hours payments away as well,” she said.
In addition, the Royal College of Midwives said it was “disappointed that the secretary of state without doubt intent on making major cuts to unsocial hour’s payments”.
Jon Skewes director for communications, policy and employment relations at the RCM, said: “Imposing contracts without further negotiation will further sever the little trust left between Jeremy Hunt and hardworking healthcare staff.”
He noted that the RCM had given the independent pay review body “extensive evidence” in July that unsocial hour’s payments were necessary to the existing performance of seven days services.
“The RCM believes that you can’t extend services elsewhere in the NHS by undermining hard working junior doctors, midwives and many other healthcare workers,” he said.
The new junior doctors’ contract will include
- deliver a 13.5% basic pay rise for junior doctors and additional pay premiums for doctors who work one in four weekends or more
- mean pay for night shifts covering 9pm-7am, and starting at 5pm on Saturdays and all day Sundays
- include a number of restrictions on consecutive days and nights doctors will be rostered to work