Junior Doctors Contracts

– in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 25th April 2016.

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Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health 4:18 pm, 25th April 2016

We have many choices in life, but one thing over which we have no control is the day of the week that we get ill. That is why the first line on the first page of this Government’s manifesto said that if elected we would deliver a seven-day NHS, so we can promise NHS patients the same high-quality care every day of the week. We know from countless studies that there is a weekend effect showing higher mortality rates for people admitted to hospital at weekends. The British public know that, too. Today, we reaffirm that no trade union has the right to veto a manifesto promise voted for by the British people. We are proud of the NHS as one of our greatest institutions, but we must turn that pride into actions. A seven-day service will help us to turn the NHS into one of the safest, highest-quality healthcare systems in the world.

This week, the British Medical Association has called on junior doctors to withdraw emergency care for the first time ever. I will update the House on the extensive measures being taken up and down the country to try to keep patients safe. But before I do so I wish to appeal directly to all junior doctors not to withdraw emergency cover, which creates particular risks for A&Es, maternity units and intensive care units.

I understand the frustration that many junior doctors feel that, because of pressures on the NHS frontline, they are not always able to give patients the highest quality of care that they would like to. I understand that some doctors may disagree with the Government about our seven-day NHS plans and, in particular, the introduction of a new contract. I also understand that doctors work incredibly hard, including at weekends, and that strong feelings exist on the single remaining disagreement of substance: Saturday premium pay. However, the new contract offers junior doctors who work frequently at weekends more Saturday premium pay than nurses, paramedics and the assistants who work in their own operating theatres, and more than police officers, firefighters and nearly every other worker in the public and private sector.

Regrettably, over the course of this pay dispute 150,000 sick and vulnerable people have seen their care disrupted. The public will rightly question whether this is appropriate or proportionate action by professionals whose patients depend on them. Taking strike action is a choice. If they will not listen to the Health Secretary, I urge them to listen to some of the country’s most experienced doctors—Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, Professor Dame Sally Davies and former Labour Health Minister Lord Darzi—who have all urged doctors to consider the damage it will cause to both patients and the reputation of the medical profession.

Let me today address some of the concerns raised by junior doctors; first, that a seven-day NHS might spread resources too thinly. The Government’s financial commitment to the NHS has already seen a like-for-like increase of 10,700 more hospital nurses and 10,100 more doctors. Despite the pressure on national finances, last year’s spending review committed the Government to a £10 billion real-terms increase in the annual NHS budget by 2020. I can today tell the House that by the end of the Parliament the supply of doctors trained to work in the NHS will have increased by a further 11,420. While it is true that pressures on the NHS will continue to increase on the back of an ageing population, we are not saying that the current workforce will have to bear all the strain of delivering a seven-day service, even though, of course, they must play their part.

Secondly, there is a concern that the Government may want to see all NHS services operating seven days a week. Let me be clear: our plans are not about elective care, but about improving the consistency of urgent and emergency care at evenings and weekends. To do this, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has prioritised four key clinical standards that need to be met. These include: making sure patients are seen by a senior decision maker no more than 14 hours after arrival at hospital; seven-day availability of diagnostic tests with a one-hour turnaround for the most critically ill patients; 24-hour access to consultant-directed interventions, such as interventional radiology or endoscopy; and twice daily reviews of patients in high dependency areas such as intensive care units. About one quarter of the country will be covered by trusts meeting these standards from next April, rising to the whole country by 2020.

Thirdly, there is the concern that proper seven-day services need support services for doctors in the weekends and evenings, as much as doctors themselves. Less than half of hospitals are currently meeting the standard on weekend diagnostic services, meaning patients needing urgent or emergency tests on a Saturday or Sunday, such as urgent ultrasounds for gallstones or diagnostics for acute heart failure, face extra hours in hospital at weekends or even days of anxiety waiting for weekday tests. Our new standards will change this, with senior clinician-directed diagnostic tests available seven days a week for all hospitals by 2020.

Finally, there is a legitimate concern that a seven-day NHS needs to apply to services offered outside hospitals if we are properly to reduce the pressure on struggling A&E departments. So, as announced last week, the Government’s seven-day NHS will also see transformed services through our GPs. We are committing an extra £2.4 billion a year for GP services by 2020-21, meaning that spending will rise from £9.6 billion last year to over £12 billion by 2021—a 14% real-terms increase. Thanks to this significant investment, patients will see a genuine transformation in how general practice services operate in England. By 2020, everyone should have easier and more convenient access to GP services, including at evenings and weekends. We will not be asking all GP practices to open at weekends to deliver this commitment, but instead using networks of practices to make sure that people can get an evening or weekend appointment, even if not at their regular practice. We have committed to recruiting an additional 5,000 doctors to work in general practice to help meet this commitment, and we will support GPs in this transformation by harnessing technology to reduce bureaucratic burdens.

Returning to the strikes, the impact of the next two days will be unprecedented, with more than 110,000 out- patient appointments and more than 12,500 operations cancelled. However, the NHS has made exhaustive preparations to try to make sure that patients remain safe, and I want to thank those many people in NHS England, NHS Improvement and every trust in the country who have been working incredibly hard over this weekend to that effect.

I have chaired a series of contingency planning meetings, bringing together the operational response across the entirety of the NHS and social care systems. From this, NHS England has worked with every trust to ensure that they have plans in place to provide safe care, with particular focus on their emergency departments, maternity units, cardiac arrest teams and mental health crisis teams. As part of their duties for civil contingency preparedness, trusts also have major incident plans in place which are ready to be enacted if required. NHS England has also asked GP practices and other primary care providers in some areas to extend their opening hours so that patients can continue to get the important but non-emergency care that they need, such as follow-ups and assessments.

Finally, we have set up a dedicated strike page on the NHS website to provide as much information as possible to the public on local alternatives to hospital care, where these alternatives are, and when they are open. This website is now live and can be reached at www.nhs.uk/strike. The NHS 111 system will also work as normal during the strike, and has been provided with additional staff to cope with expected increased demand. We would encourage people who are concerned that they may need urgent care to visit this website, and call 111 in advance of showing up at an A&E department.

The NHS is busting a gut to keep the public safe. However, we should not lose sight of the underlying reason for this dispute, namely this Government’s determination to be the first country in the world to offer a proper patient-focused seven-day health service. To help deliver this, the NHS will this year receive the sixth biggest funding increase in its history. But it is not just about money, as we know from the mistakes of previous Governments. It is also about taking the tough and difficult decisions necessary to make sure that we really do turn our NHS into the safest, highest-quality healthcare system in the world. This Government will not duck that challenge. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Shadow Secretary of State for Health 4:28 pm, 25th April 2016

I thank the Health Secretary for the advance copy of his statement.

Tomorrow’s strike is one of the saddest days in the history of the NHS, and the saddest thing is that the person sitting opposite me could have prevented it. Yesterday the Health Secretary was presented with a genuine and constructive cross-party proposal to pilot the contract. That would have enabled him to make progress towards his manifesto commitment on seven-day services and, crucially, it could have averted this week’s strike. Any responsible Health Secretary would have grasped that opportunity immediately, or at least considered it and discussed it, but not this one. Yesterday morning he tweeted “Labour ‘plan’ is opportunism”. That was a deeply disappointing and irresponsible response.

Let me remind the Health Secretary that the proposal was not a Labour plan, but was co-signed by two of his respected former Ministers, Dr Poulter and the Liberal Democrat right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), and the Scottish National party’s health spokesperson, Dr Whitford. Let me also remind him that it had the support of several medical royal colleges, including the Royal College of Surgeons, and, crucially, that the BMA had indicated it was prepared to meet the Government to discuss calling off Tuesday and Wednesday’s action.

The Health Secretary claimed yesterday that a phased imposition was the same as a pilot. Will he explain how imposition on a predetermined timescale, with no opportunity to right the wrongs of his proposed contract and no independent assessment of its impact on patient care, is the same as a pilot? Why is he so afraid of an independent evaluation? Why does he not want to know how changing the contract contributes in practice to meeting his aspirations for more consistent emergency care across the seven days of the week? And why is he so determined to railroad this contract through, with all its associated implications, instead of road-testing it and working with junior doctors and hospital bosses to bring about the changes in patient care and outcomes he wants to see?

The Health Secretary claims that any further delay means it will take longer to eliminate the so-called weekend effect, but he has failed to produce a shred of evidence to show how changing the junior doctors contract alone will deliver that aim. He will know that the very person he appointed to lead his negotiations, Sir David Dalton, has said that the staff group that needs to change its working patterns the least to deliver seven-day care is junior doctors—because they already work weekends, nights and bank holidays.

The Health Secretary rightly talked about safety. NHS England’s update today said the NHS was pulling out all the stops to minimise the risks to the quality and safety of care this week. We know that in many cases senior staff will be stepping in to provide cover and ensure the provision of essential services, but there is no escaping the fact that this is a time of unprecedented risk, and he should have thought about that yesterday, before dismissing a plan that could well have averted the strike.

The Health Secretary wants to be remembered as the person who championed patient safety, but safety is not just an issue this week; it will be an issue in the months and years ahead. Long after his tenure in Richmond House is up, it will be the people who work in the NHS who will be picking up the pieces of this dispute, and they are rightly worried about the long-term safety implications of the proposed contract. How can it be safe to impose a contract when no one knows what the impact will be on recruitment and retention but everyone fears the worst, and when he is running the risk of losing hundreds of female doctors, given the contract’s disproportionate impact on women? Even if just 1% of junior doctors decide enough is enough and leave the NHS, they will be people we can ill afford to do without.

How can it be safe to impose a contract that risks destroying the morale of junior doctors, given that the NHS does not just depend on the good will of staff going the extra mile but survives on it? The Health Secretary is breaking that good will. How can it be safe to introduce a contract when there is no guarantee that effective and robust safeguards will be in place to control hours worked and shift patterns? A pilot could have addressed these issues, which is precisely why it had the backing of so many people.

I suspect that when the Health Secretary gets back to his feet, he will launch another attack on me and the Labour party to detract attention from his culpability for tomorrow’s action. I know this because last week, instead of working to resolve this dispute, the Health Secretary was busy writing me a two-page letter that he briefed to The Sun, asking whether I would be on a picket line.

Let me deal with this matter now in the hope that we can get some constructive answers from the Health Secretary. No, I will not be on a picket line tomorrow or on Wednesday, but that is not because I do not support the junior doctors’ cause, and it is certainly not because I feel even an ounce of sympathy for the Health Secretary. It is because I think patients affected by this dispute want to see politicians working together to find a constructive solution—and that is exactly what I was doing last week, while the Health Secretary was penning his pathetic political attacks.

I am flattered that the Health Secretary attaches such significance to my actions, but the truth is that it is his actions, and his actions alone, that can stop this strike: not me, not the Labour party, but him. If he ploughs on, I warn him now that history will not be kind to him. It will show that when faced with a compromise, the Health Secretary chose a fight; that when presented with a way out, this Health Secretary chose to dig in; and that when asked to put patients first, this Health Secretary chose strikes.

The way in which the Government have handled this dispute is the political equivalent of pouring oil on to a blazing fire. Even if we put to one side the legal question about his authority to impose a contract and the detail of the contract provisions, the simple truth is this: there is no trust left between the people who work in the NHS and this Health Secretary. He can barely show his face in a hospital because he ends up being chased down the road. This is a deeply, deeply sad day for the NHS, and even at this eleventh hour, I urge him to find a way out.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

The shadow Health Secretary can do better than that. She talked about the judgments that I have made as Health Secretary, so I will tell her what is a judgment issue—it is whether or not you back a union that is withdrawing life-saving care from your own constituents. Health Secretaries should stand up for their constituents and their patients, and if she will not, I will.

The hon. Lady also talked about the trust of the profession. The Health Secretary who loses the trust of the profession is the Health Secretary who does not take tough and difficult decisions to make care better for patients—something we have seen precious little evidence of from the hon. Lady or, if I may say so, her predecessors.

The hon. Lady also talked about putting oil on a blazing fire. What, then, does she make of the shadow Chancellor’s comments recently when he said:

“We have got to work to bring this Government down at the first opportunity…Whether in parliament, picket line, or the streets, this Labour leadership is with you”?

Yes, it is with the strikers, but also against the patients. Labour should be ashamed of such comments from the shadow Chancellor.

Let us deal with the substance of what the hon. Lady said. She talked about her proposal for pilots. If this was a genuine attempt to broker a deal between all the parties, why was it that the first the Government knew about it was when we read The Sunday Times yesterday morning? The truth is that this was about politics, not peace making. If she is saying that we should stage the implementation of this contract to make sure we get it absolutely right, I agree. That is why only 11% of junior doctors are going on to the new contract in August. She says she wants more independent studies into mortality rates at weekends, but we have already had eight in the last six years, pointing to the weekend effect. How many more studies does the hon. Lady want? Now is the time to act, to save lives, and to give our patients a safer NHS.

The hon. Lady talked about legal powers, which we discussed in the House last week. The Health Act 2006 makes very clear where my powers are to introduce a new contract, either directly or indirectly, when foundation trusts choose to follow the national contract.

I have given very straight answers today. Will the hon. Lady now tell us yes or no? Will Labour Members now tell us yes or no? Do they or do they not support the withdrawal of life-saving care from NHS patients? Last week, the hon. Lady’s answer was “no comment”. Well, “no comment” is no leadership. Labour used to stand up for vulnerable patients, but now it cares more about powerful unions. It is the Conservatives who are putting the money into the NHS, delivering a seven-day service for patients, and fighting to make NHS care the best in the world.

Photo of Sarah Wollaston Sarah Wollaston Chair, Health and Social Care Committee

There are only losers in this bitter dispute, but those who have the most to lose are patients and their families. Tomorrow people will visit hospitals to see those whom they care about more than anything in the world, and will ask themselves why the doctors on the picket line are not inside looking after the people they love. May I ask the British Medical Association directly whether it will show dignity, put patients first, and draw back from this dangerous escalation? May I ask all sides, whatever provocation they may feel, to put patients first in this dispute?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend has spoken very wisely. She recently wrote, in The Guardian, something with which I profoundly agree: she wrote that there could have been a solution to this problem back in February, when a very fair compromise was put on the table in relation to the one outstanding issue of substance, Saturday pay.

I understand that this is a very emotive issue. The Government initially wanted there to be no premium pay on Saturdays, but in the end we agreed to premium pay for anyone who works one Saturday a month or more. That will cover more than half the number of junior doctors working on Saturdays. It was a fair compromise, and there was an opportunity to settle the dispute, but unfortunately the BMA negotiators were not willing to take that opportunity. I, too, urge them, whatever their differences with me and whatever their differences with the Government, to think about patients tomorrow. It would be an absolute tragedy for the NHS if something went wrong in the next couple of days, and they have a duty to make sure that it does not.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Health)

I welcome the absolute commitment that the Secretary of State has given today that this is only about seven-day emergency care, because in the past he has often seemed to move between elective and emergency care. However, Sir Bruce Keogh has criticised the imposition of the contract, and has said that what has lost consensus across the profession has been the conflation of the need for a robust emergency service over seven days with the junior doctors’ contract, when junior doctors already work seven days.

I think that people have also been upset by the use of statistics without analysis. It is not a case of extra deaths at the weekend, which suggests poor care, but a case of extra deaths among people who were admitted at weekends within 30 days. That is quite an odd formula, but we can think of factors that might contribute.

I support the four standards that the Secretary of State mentioned, but none of them relates to junior doctors. Number one is probably access to diagnosis: people lie in hospital over the weekend with no access to scans, and their whole pathway is delayed. When we conducted an in-depth audit of surgical mortality in Scotland, it identified issues such as the insufficient seniority of an operating surgeon and, later, the insufficient seniority of an operating anaesthetist. However, part of the problem is that we have not worked out what the problem is. The Secretary of State may go on about the four standards—about a senior review, 24/7 access to interventional care, and access to diagnostics—but that will not be changed by the junior doctors’ contract.

The Secretary of State calls on the BMA to listen to leaders. What about the 11 royal colleges that have written to him? In his letter to the leader of the BMA over the weekend, he highlighted the things that still need to be sorted out, and that means that there is a need to talk. There has been no talking for five weeks. Surely we should stop the imposition, get rid of the strike, go back to the table, and complete the talking.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I agree with the hon. Lady on one point: it is a total tragedy when the Health Secretary ends up with no other choice but to impose. Had we had sensible negotiations, that would have not have been necessary. She talked about the royal colleges. They say that the withdrawal of emergency care should not happen. Clare Marx, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, has said that she personally would not and could not strike. I have tried to be very clear this afternoon about exactly what we are trying to do, and we have been clear on many occasions that this does not apply to elective care.

If the hon. Lady is concerned about the statistics, I would encourage her to read some of the 15 international studies covering stroke, cancer, emergency surgery and paediatric care, including the very thorough Fremantle study published last September. She is right to suggest that many of them talk about senior decision-makers being present. That could be a consultant, but it could also be an experienced junior doctor. As she knows, the term “junior doctor” is something of a misnomer because someone could have been a doctor for seven years and still be a junior doctor.

The hon. Lady also asked about the link with the junior doctor contract. The single outstanding issue is Saturday pay rates, as the BMA has confirmed in private emails that it has sent out. We need to make it possible for doctors to roster more people at weekends, and Saturday pay rates are obviously connected to that. What I have tried to do today is to show that the supply of trained doctors into the NHS will be going up during this Parliament, so we will not be depending on the current workforce to supply the additional Saturday cover in its entirety. There will be more doctors going into the NHS, which will spread the burden, and that is the way that we will get the safe NHS that we want.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I support the vision of a seven-day NHS and a safer NHS that my right hon. Friend is so energetic about. However, for the benefit of all those uncommitted people listening to our debate who just want the NHS to work, will he tell us how big the gap is over that remaining issue, and how he sees it being resolved as quickly as possible?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the difficult paradox that we face. Earlier this year, we came close to an agreement and, had there been a willingness to negotiate rather than what I fear was the BMA’s desire to settle for nothing less than a full Government climb-down, we could have had a deal. The outstanding issues were about pay for antisocial hours and particularly about Saturday hours pay. That is where the main difference lay. We proposed a sensible compromise on that but, as Sir David Dalton, the chief executive at Salford Royal, said, we had to decide quickly what we were going to do because the contracts are coming in this August and there is a process we have to go through. So that will be in the new contracts from this August, but we are very willing to talk all parties, including the BMA, about the implementation of these contracts, about the contents of future contracts and about anything to ensure that this contract works, because we would much rather have a negotiated agreed solution and it is a great tragedy that we were not able to do that this time.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

When the Secretary of State came into the Chamber today, I do not know whether he realised that there was a smirk and an arrogance about him that almost betrayed the fact that he is delighted to be taking part in this activity. He could start negotiations today, wipe that smirk off his face and get down to some serious negotiations. It has had to be done in the past, but instead he comes here to try and blame the Opposition for what is taking place. This strike can only be caused by two sides: the junior hospital doctors and the Government. He is almost giving the impression that he is revelling in standing up to the junior hospital doctors. Start negotiating now and sort the matter out!

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

The hon. Gentleman has made many memorable contributions in the House, but that was unworthy of his track record. Let me tell him exactly what the Government have been trying to do to solve the issue. We have been talking to the BMA for over three years. We have had three independent processes. We have had 75 meetings to try to resolve the issues. He may be interested to know that we made 74 concessions in those meetings. There has been a huge effort. It is about not just talking, but both sides compromising to reach a solution. The BMA’s junior doctors committee was not willing to have constructive discussions, which is why we face the tragic situation that we face now. When the hon. Gentleman says that it takes “two sides”, I hope he recognises that we need a counterparty with which we can have sensible negotiations. We have not had that this time.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans

I met some junior doctors on Saturday morning, and they said that they wanted to go back to talking, which perhaps means that the union is not representing doctors as well as it could—I do not know. They also said that they had genuine concerns about a couple of issues apart from pay. Will the Secretary of State look at concerns relating to rostering and timing and whether a daytime shift should finish at 1.30 am or 2 am with the next day continuing as normal? Some issues are open to discussion, and my doctors want those discussions to happen, so perhaps the union is not being as helpful as it could be.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I am afraid that junior doctors, who work incredibly hard and are the backbone of the NHS, have not been well represented by their union. The BMA is currently telling junior doctors not to co-operate with trusts in any discussions about the implementation of the new contract. The kinds of issues mentioned by my hon. Friend are exactly those that we want to sit down and talk to the BMA about. I wrote to Mark Porter, the chair of the BMA’s council—in fact, I talked to him earlier this afternoon—about the possibility of talks to go through all those extra-contractual issues and the contract itself to ensure that we implement it in the best possible way. That is the kind of dialogue that the Government are willing to have and that we would welcome, but we need another party to come to the table if we are to succeed in doing so.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

The Health Secretary knows well that seven-day working has absolutely nothing to do with his proposed new contract. The Health Committee recently visited Salford Royal hospital, to which he referred earlier and which is already running a seven-day service on the existing contract. His petulant rejection of the all-party proposals to pilot the contract shows that tomorrow will be his responsibility and his alone.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Let us be absolutely clear. The people who are responsible for the strike tomorrow are those who choose to do the BMA’s urging and withdraw emergency care for patients. That is where the responsibility lies.

Let me deal with the right hon. Gentleman’s point directly. There are a couple of trusts in the country that have been good at introducing seven-day standards in urgent and emergency care, but my judgment, and that of the Government, is that it would not be possible under the current contractual structures to roll that out across the whole NHS. Those trusts happen to have some of the NHS’s most outstanding leaders, and we need to learn from what they have done, but we also need to make it possible for those same things to happen at all hospitals, including the hon. Gentleman’s own.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, North Somerset

Those of us who have served our time as junior doctors understand the hard work and very long hours that they do in a system that has had too few doctors since its inception. Many of us believe that there is no dispute about pay and conditions that justifies putting patients’ lives at risk.

There has been some confusion about what the Government have meant by a seven-day NHS. There has always been a seven-day emergency service, but it is too patchy across the country, which needs to be addressed. That is different, however, from a seven-day elective service, which simply cannot be achieved by doctors alone and requires bacteriologists, haematologists, and radiographers. Might my right hon. Friend get the Government’s case to be more clearly defined in future so that we know what we are trying to achieve? There is little difference between what the Government and doctors want, notwithstanding the fact that the BMA has behaved rather badly.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My right hon. Friend is right; the tragedy here is that what the Government want, which is to eliminate the weekend effect, whereby there are higher mortality rates for those admitted at weekends, is exactly what every doctor wants. We should be sitting around the table discussing how we can achieve a proper, consistent, seven-day service for urgent and emergency care. When it comes to elective provision, that is not part of our plans, although some trusts are operating elective care on a seven-day basis—that is their choice. We are trying to reduce the higher mortality rates for weekend admissions, and that will be at the heart of our vision for a true seven-day NHS.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Can the Health Secretary name a single medical college that backs his decision to impose this contract?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

All I would say is that every medical college agrees with me that doctors should not withdraw emergency care in tomorrow’s strike, because, as one of my right hon. Friends said, this is a line the medical profession has not crossed before. I do not think it should cross it tomorrow either.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Many Members are as concerned as the Secretary of State is about the prospect of emergency care not being provided. Does he agree that junior doctors seem to have concerns about the rota and shift patterns, particularly where they are married to another doctor? Is he able to give any assurance that this issue will be looked at carefully as things are rolled out and that the NHS will help couples in that situation by making sure the rotas are more reasonable?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. and learned Friend is right about that, which is why when we announced our decision to proceed with the current contracts we also said that we would set up a process to look at all the quality of life issues that could make a difference to the current junior doctor workforce and to their morale. One of those issues is that it is currently too difficult for doctors who are partners to work in the same city, because of the processes we have—we want to reform that. There are many other things we could do in terms of improving the predictability and reliability of shift patterns, but to do that we need the BMA to co-operate with the Bailey review, which we have set up and which is led by the president of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. We could then sort out these problems, but at the moment we do not have that co-operation, which is why we are not making the progress we want.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health)

May I say to the Secretary of State that it is because I have very real anxieties about the impact on patients of a strike involving emergency services, not because of political opportunism, that I signed that letter? I urge him, even at this eleventh hour, to meet all of us to discuss this in a reasonable and rational way. Ultimately, we all have a responsibility to try to avert this strike.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I absolutely agree with that, but I gently say to the right hon. Gentleman that if that was the case, he has my mobile phone number and he could have contacted me, and he did not need The Sunday Times to be the first place I saw his proposal. If the people involved were genuinely serious about brokering a deal, that was not the way to go about it. We all have a duty to do everything we can to avert tomorrow’s strike, but his proposal to change the Government’s plans into pilots would mean, as he knows perfectly well, that seven-day care would get kicked into the long grass and would probably not happen. That would be wrong. As he well knows, we have a responsibility to patients to deliver our manifesto promises, and that is what we are going to do.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can refresh my memory. Is it not the case that under the new contract those who are going to strike tomorrow—it is by no means all junior doctors—putting patients’ lives at risk, will be earning more, rather than less, and for fewer hours, rather than more? Would he also remind me of any other public sector employee who gets time and a half for working on a Saturday morning?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The deal on the table is fair for junior doctors; there is higher premium pay for people who work regular Saturdays than there is for nurses, paramedics, healthcare assistants in their own operating theatres, fire officers, police officers and pretty much anyone else in the public or private sector. Under the new contract we are bringing down premium rates for Saturday pay, but we are making sure we compensate that with a 13.5% increase in the basic pay—to my knowledge, that is not being offered anywhere else in the public sector. That will mean take-home pay goes up for 75% of junior doctors. It is a very fair deal. It is designed to make sure that they are not out of pocket as we make changes that are safer for patients, which is why we should be talking about these changes and not having these strikes.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

A phased implementation is not the same as having a pilot with an independent evaluation to assess the effects of this contract on the workforce, and on safety and quality of care. Why will the Health Secretary not accede to the wholly reasonable proposal to pilot the new contract, which will break the current deadlock?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

We have had eight studies in the past six years—those were independent studies, not commissioned by the Government, and they covered areas such as paediatric and cancer care, emergency surgery and a whole range of other areas. Six of those eight studies mentioned staffing levels at weekends as something that seriously needs to be investigated. Today there are higher mortality rates for weekend admissions, and the Government have a responsibility to do something, not to commission further studies. That is why we are determined to press ahead.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

May I reiterate my concern that there appears to have been no ballot of junior doctors specifically on the question of withdrawal of emergency care? Does the Secretary of State share my fear that if, despite his best efforts, people die as a result of this withdrawal of emergency cover, public demand for a legislative change to ensure that that can never happen again will become irresistible?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My right hon. Friend is right to say that the public will be extremely disappointed that professionals are putting patients at risk in such a way, and it is extremely tragic that they are doing so. I am afraid that I think this is a crossing of the Rubicon—crossing a line in a way that has not happened before. I think it is totally tragic, and I support the concern of my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South

In his statement, the Secretary of State said that this was “in our manifesto”. This is about ideology, not about the NHS. If he cares about the NHS, will he hear the will of the House, contact the BMA straight after this statement and negotiate?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

If by “ideology”, the hon. Lady means a commitment to make the NHS the safest, highest quality health care system in the world, I plead guilty to ideology. That is the NHS that I want, and that means a seven-day NHS in which we do not have higher mortality rates for people admitted at weekends. There was a time when the Labour party would have been prepared to take tough and difficult decisions to make things better for patients, but that day has passed.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Conservative, Hornchurch and Upminster

Many professions and occupations require seven-day working in the public and private sectors. Given that all but one of the points of difference between the BMA and the Government have been resolved, does my right hon. Friend agree that this drastic strike action on the remaining issue of Saturday pay is wholly unjustified?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

It is wholly unjustified because the offer on the table for Saturday pay is extremely generous, and in some ways more generous than that available to pretty much any other professional in the public or private sector. This is a very extreme step as far as patients are concerned, and the BMA must recognise that this Government are as committed to the NHS as it is. When the Government want to learn the lessons of Mid Staffs, turn around our struggling hospitals, and ensure that our care is safe every day of the week, it is right to sit around the table, negotiate and talk, but that is not what we have had from the BMA. We must not be deflected from taking difficult decisions even if we have that opposition, because our ultimate responsibility is to patients.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I recently visited the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary in Wigan and met many junior doctors, all of whom told me that every day they work two or three hours longer than their contracted hours, without pay and out of concern for their patients. Is it folly not to pilot this contract and to risk losing the good will and services of those dedicated people? Surely that will decrease, not increase, patient safety.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

What is devastating to the morale of junior doctors is when they are represented by an organisation that constantly feeds them misinformation about the contents of the new contract. First, the BMA told them that it was going to mean that their pay was cut. Then it told them that they were going to be asked to work longer hours. In fact, the reverse is true on both those things. The way that we raise morale among the very important junior doctor workforce is by the BMA saying that it is prepared to take a constructive approach to sensible negotiations, not refuse to budge, as we saw in February.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

It is important to be both rational and reasonable. It is reasonable for registrars to be earning, on average, £53,000 a year and, when fully established, more than £100,000. It is rational for junior doctors’ leaders to accept that rostering should be a matter of discussion, as there is a right and a wrong level. The remaining issue is some of the premium pay for Saturdays. It seems that it would be a good idea if those behind the BMA negotiators came out into the open and explained in detail to my patients and the patients of the 649 other MPs, or the MPs in England anyway, what the issue is that is stopping it calling off the strikes, getting people back to talks and making agreements.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

As ever, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I have spoken to junior doctors who are protesting, they have not wanted to bring up issues in the new contract, as much of it is very good for them. I am talking about the fact that they cannot be asked to work six consecutive nights, which they can be at the moment; the fact that they cannot be asked to work more than six long days in a row, which they can be currently; and the fact that the maximum hours that they can be asked to work is going down from 91 to 72. There are many things that are good in this new contract, which is why the sensible and rational thing for them to do is to sit down and discuss it with the Government and not to set their face against it at any cost.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Labour, Bradford West

This morning, Dr Ben White resigned as a trainee doctor. He said it was

“to fight the contract on behalf of his patients and on behalf of the NHS.”

I also met junior doctors over the weekend, and their morale is really low. Does the Health Secretary believe that it can be safe for patients to impose a contract that risks destroying the morale of junior doctors and impacting on staff retention?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I will tell the hon. Lady what is unsafe for patients. It is not standing up to the BMA when it behaves in a totally unreasonable way with a Government who are determined to make NHS care safer. With the greatest respect to her, because she is new to the House, she should appreciate that previous Labour Governments did not stand up to the BMA, and that is why we are left with many of the problems that we face today.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

The Health Secretary is doing the right thing for patients, and I welcome his statement. However, does he accept that there is more to be done in contractual terms for the NHS workforce if Sir Bruce Keogh’s 10 clinical standards are to be implemented? Although he may not wish to reflect on it at this particular point in time, what does he think can be done to improve contracts for non-training grades and consultants in the NHS?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend speaks very wisely and also from experience on these issues. He is right. I have tried to make the point in my statement that a seven-day NHS is not just about junior doctors—it is about the whole range of services; it is about consultants, diagnostic services, general practice. As we seek to move towards a seven-day NHS, we will also be expanding the NHS workforce to ensure that the current workforce does not bear all the strain by itself. This is an opportunity. We have had lots of comments today about morale. I simply say this: the way to improve morale for doctors is to enable them to give the safest possible care to patients. At the moment, much of the frustration from doctors is that they do not feel able to give the safe care they would want to. We want to change that and to work with the BMA to make that possible.

Photo of Peter Kyle Peter Kyle Labour, Hove

So far the Secretary of State has not grabbed the opportunity presented to him from across the House—I am talking about a cross-party solution—with both hands. If patients were at the centre of his thinking, he would have done so. He has told the House that he has not done so, because he read about it in The Times rather than getting a phone call. If Norman Lamb agrees to call his mobile and tell him anything that he wants to hear—whisper sweet nothings into his ear—will he agree to have the conversation and call off this strike?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I have to say that the right hon. Gentleman never whispered sweet nothings in my ear, and he certainly has not done so since being in opposition. With regard to doing what it takes, let me tell the hon. Gentleman directly that we have been trying to solve this problem for three years, with 75 meetings, 74 concessions and three independent processes. We have been doing everything we possibly can to solve this problem. What we have is a very intransigent and difficult junior doctors committee of the BMA, which has refused to negotiate sensibly. In that situation, the Health Secretary has a simple choice: to move forward or to give up. When it comes to patient safety, we are moving forward.

Photo of Andrea Jenkyns Andrea Jenkyns Conservative, Morley and Outwood

Patient safety is a matter close to my heart. Tomorrow, doctors will shout that this strike is not about pay or Saturday working, but about patient safety. They will march under banners declaring the contract to be unsafe and unfair. Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that there is absolutely no prospect of the Government giving into this naked attempt by the doctors’ union to hold vulnerable patients as hostage in a row over pay? Patients must always come first.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The truth is that being Health Secretary is never easy, whichever Government they are in, but where they have made mistakes in the past is where they have been too willing to compromise on vital issues of patient safety, and a seven-day NHS is one of those issues. When it comes to safety, Channel 4’s “FactCheck”, which is not a known supporter of the Government, has compared the new contract with the old one and said that, on the face of it, the new one is safer. That should reassure many doctors that this is the right thing for the NHS to do, and they should work with us, not against us.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Chair, Petitions Committee

The Secretary of State has said that this is all about patient safety. Well, the junior doctors I have met in Warrington believe that it is all about patient safety, too, and they do not believe that overtired doctors provide the best service for patients. Has he done a risk assessment on the imposition of a contract and the consequences for patient safety of lowering doctors’ morale and losing doctors from the NHS?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Let me gently tell the hon. Lady the facts about what the contract involves. It involves the maximum number of hours that any junior doctor can be asked to work in any week coming down from 91 to 72. It involves reducing the number of nights and long days they can work, as we discussed earlier. It is a safer contract. The reason morale is low is that, rather than negotiating sensibly, the BMA has gone for an outright win, which was a very big mistake. We could have had a negotiated solution a long time ago. In that situation, a Health Secretary has to do what is right for patients, and that is what we are doing.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

I have long found that the BMA is not universally admired by doctors, perhaps because of its long history of putting doctors’ interests ahead of patients’ interests. Will the Secretary of State ensure that he does not inadvertently drive doctors into the arms of the BMA, and will he look into adopting some of the old left ideas of mutuality, which would reconnect doctors to the interests of their patients?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend and I have discussed that recently, and I do think that the mutual structure is something we should be open-minded about. When junior doctors go on to the new contracts, which will happen in stages starting this August, they will find that it is safer and better and that they have more predictable shift patterns. It will enable them to have a better quality of life. Then they will realise just how badly represented they have been by the BMA.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am worried about the potential consequences of the Secretary of State having people believe that if they are ill on the day of strike action there will be no A&E for them to go to. If they do not go and there are consequences, I believe that the consequences will be his responsibility, so could he now clear this matter up for the British public and confirm that there will be A&E cover on the days of these strikes, if they go ahead?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

We do believe we will be able to keep all A&E departments open tomorrow and the next day, during the days of the strike, but that does not mean there will not be huge pressure on hospitals, which is why we are urging people to go to A&E only if they really need to. I would simply say to the hon. Gentleman that this disruption is the responsibility of the people who are choosing to withdraw emergency care for the first time in the history of the NHS.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

Can I ask my right hon. Friend to stick to his guns and not to give in to the unreasonable demands of the BMA? Doctors are among the most highly remunerated of our public servants—far better remunerated than members of the police or the armed services, who are essential workers and who are barred by law from taking strike action. Can I urge my right hon. Friend to review the situation with regard to A&E medics?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Interestingly, A&E departments will benefit from the new contract because there are special premiums to encourage more people to go into A&E as a specialty. However, on his broader point, I agree: when someone is paid a high salary, that comes with the responsibilities of a profession. That is why, however much people disagree with the new contract, and however much they may not agree with the Government’s plans for a seven-day NHS, it is totally inappropriate to withdraw emergency care in the way that will happen tomorrow and the next day. That is why doctors should be very careful about the impact this will have on their status in the country.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Labour, Wirral South

The Secretary of State said in his statement: “Taking strike action is a choice”. However, when someone’s back is against the wall, and the person in charge will not listen, it never feels like a choice. A month ago, the Secretary of State could not answer my question about how big the NHS provider deficit would be in the last financial year—it was about £3 billion—so will he answer my question now, because money is at the heart of this? What will the NHS provider deficit be in the next financial year?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

We are taking serious action to bring that deficit down. In particular, one thing we need to do to do that is to reduce the use of agency staff. That will help with the provision of more full-time staff in the NHS, which will be good for the junior doctor workforce.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

I commend my right hon. Friend for the way he is conducting himself in this matter. Will he remind the House when the BMA’s junior doctors negotiating committee first refused to meet him because it wanted to achieve a political outcome rather than a resolved settlement?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Regrettably, there has not been only one occasion. In the October before the election, the junior doctors committee walked out of talks after extensive efforts to negotiate a new contract. We then had the independent pay review body process. Then—this was the most shocking thing of all—we had the decision of the committee to ballot for strike action before it had even been prepared to sit down and talk to me about what the new contract involved. That has been at the heart of so many misunderstandings about this contract and has led to so much disappointment on all sides. If the committee had sat down and talked to us, it would have discovered that we all want the same thing: a safer, seven-day NHS.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Labour, Enfield North

The Secretary of State tells us he has spent over three years on this matter—three years, and he has brought us to this unprecedented state of affairs. May I gently suggest to him that it is not the junior doctors who are the problem, but him? My constituents—hundreds of whom have written to me—overwhelmingly feel that he has been irresponsible and intransigent. He needs to get back to the negotiating table, lift the imposition and put the people who need A&E—in the next few days and beyond —first.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

If the right hon. Lady is asking whether I will compromise in my pursuit of a safer NHS for her constituents and my constituents, the answer is I will not. I am the Health Secretary who had to deal with Mid Staffs and with a huge number of hospitals up and down the country that the Labour party, when in power, did nothing to turn around. We dealt with that. We put 27 hospitals into special measures. We have dramatically increased the number of doctors and nurses in our hospital wards because we care about a safer NHS. When there are issues about weekend care, the right thing to do is to address those issues, not to duck them.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I think the Secretary of State can be criticised in this dispute, and my criticism is that he has been far too generous to junior doctors. Despite their understandable embarrassment at admitting it, this is a good old-fashioned pay and terms strike by an old-fashioned trade union. As far as I am concerned, it is an absolute disgrace to withdraw emergency cover on the basis of what premiums are paid on a Saturday when most of my constituents, who are much more poorly paid, go out to work on a Saturday as a normal day without any premiums whatsoever. No Government should ever give in to this kind of industrial action. Will he give a firm commitment that, despite the bluster from the Labour party, he will stick to his guns on this issue?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I absolutely give my hon. Friend that commitment. He is absolutely right to say that professionals should not withdraw emergency care in pursuance of a pay dispute. It is totally and utterly inappropriate. It is not just me saying that; it is what very experienced doctors such as Professor Bruce Keogh are saying. This is the wrong way to go about this dispute. In the end, the public recognise a simple truth: you cannot choose which day of the week on which you get ill. If we are to have the best health service in the world, we need to reflect that in the medical cover we provide at the weekends as well as during the week.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I have previously raised with the Secretary of State the problems with recruitment and retention in Hull and East Yorkshire. I would like an undertaking from him. If he moves forward with the imposition of the new contract and evidence comes to light that retention and recruitment are going to be difficult, will he stop the imposition and think again?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

We are constantly monitoring what will happen with the new contract, and we want to make sure that we get it absolutely right. If she makes such a plea to me, she should also talk to the BMA and say that the way to make sure we implement this contract correctly is to sit down with the Government and talk about how to make it successful, rather than to refuse to talk to us, which is what is happening at Hull royal infirmary and many other hospitals.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

I briefly attended a medical conference over the weekend, where doctors said they were hugely concerned by the impact on the vast majority of junior doctors who neither wish to strike nor believe that the contract is satisfactory, for the reason given by my hon. Friend Mrs Main, when she was in the Chamber. They are being put in an impossible position. I really urge the BMA to withdraw the threat of strike action and the Secretary of State to make it quite clear that he will do whatever it takes in sitting down to resolve this issue for the sake of all our patients and their safety.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I am absolutely prepared to talk about anything that could be improved in the contract that will be introduced and, indeed, extra-contractual things such as the way in which rota gaps are filled and the training process. However, at the moment we do not have such a dialogue, and that has been the problem. The imposition of a new contract is the last thing in the world that we wanted as a Government. It followed 75 meetings—it was a totally exhaustive process—but in the end we found that our counterparty was not interested in sitting down to talk about this; it just wanted a political win. We had to make an absolutely invidious choice about doing the right thing to make patients safer. I wish we had not got to that point. We have got to it and we need to carry on, but the door is always open for further talks and discussions.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Defence)

The Secretary of State is the one person who can stop this strike. Why will he not now take a step back, engage the services of ACAS—specialists in negotiations—remove the conditionality and address the remaining issues? Proper dialogue will get a resolution.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Had Nye Bevan given way to the BMA there would be no NHS.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for visiting my constituency earlier this month. In the last decade, the previous Labour Government removed medical services from Crawley hospital; now, we have a 24/7 urgent treatment service and a doctors out-of-hours service. Does my right hon. Friend share the dismay of my local patients that the BMA is essentially asking junior doctors to go against their Hippocratic oath?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I think many people inside and outside the medical profession are deeply upset that that is happening. I really enjoyed my visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency, and we will continue to invest in his local health services. I think that his constituents will be upset by the fact that the pay and conditions many of them have for working at weekends go nowhere near what is being offered to junior doctors under the new contract. In that sense, it is totally disproportionate to withdraw emergency care, which is such an extreme measure and has never happened before.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Shadow Minister (Education)

I welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition that junior doctors are the backbone of the NHS and his expression of willingness to talk about the implementation of the contract. Those words are great, but I urge him to take actions to match them and take the opportunity of the cross-party initiative to pilot this contract. If he does not do that and ploughs on regardless, he will jeopardise patient safety.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I welcome any genuine attempt to try to resolve this issue, but Health Education England has said that it does not believe that that cross-party approach is workable. As I have said to the hon. Gentleman before, having pilots of seven-day care and new junior doctor contracts would mean that we took too long to deliver a key manifesto promise.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane

Farmers in Taunton Deane, as well as retail workers, journalists and bus drivers, all work across the week, and we need the NHS to do so as well. We cannot choose which day our children fall sick, and it makes absolute sense for the NHS to operate seven days a week for the sake of patients. It is crucial for the BMA to join the Government and resolve these well-thought-out plans. I urge the Secretary of State to keep up the good work.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I thank my hon. Friend, who eloquently makes the point that this is a moment of opportunity for the NHS. We have been through some terrible problems at Mid Staffs and a number of other hospitals where there were serious issues in the quality of care, and now we are going on a journey to make the NHS one of the safest healthcare systems in the world. That means facing up to these problems, not ducking them, and that is what is going to happen for the time that I am Health Secretary.

Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

The junior doctors I have spoken to are concerned about unsafe staffing levels and unworkable rotas as a result of the imposition of this contract. They ask me to make it clear to patients and to the public that the two strike days are nine hours in length and will last from 8 am until 5 pm, and that emergency care will be provided by consultants. The solution is in the Health Secretary’s hands: withdraw the imposition of this contract and get back round the negotiating table.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

As I have said many times, were we to do that we would be giving the BMA a veto over a manifesto commitment, and no union should have a veto over what an elected Government do. I hope that what I said in my statement will give comfort to the hon. Lady and some of her constituents that we are increasing staffing levels in the NHS to deal with the extra pressures. With regard to unworkable rotas, perhaps she will go and tell the BMA to sit round the table and talk to its local trust managements so that we can get those rotas to work, because the way to sort out these problems is to sit down and discuss them.

Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury

Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking the consultants and nurses at Leighton hospital and Countess of Chester hospital who will be working extra hours in order to give as much patient cover as they can? Does not the recent leak of emails from members of the junior doctors committee last week show that they utterly reject any compromise and that any offer at this stage is simply not a serious offer?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I thank my hon. Friend for what she says about consultants in her local trust and, indeed, up and down the country, as well as nurses, paramedics and many other people who will be working to keep the public safe. I salute all of them. She is absolutely right: those leaked emails show that those on the junior doctors committee know that had they been prepared to negotiate on Saturday pay we would not have had an imposed contract, so it was completely in their hands to avoid this outcome. They chose not to do that; they wanted war. That was a totally irresponsible thing to do. They need to recognise that the way we will build a safer NHS is by sitting round and talking to a Government who want to create it.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Labour/Co-operative, Barrow and Furness

Why does the Secretary of State suspect the motives of his former ministerial colleague, Dr Poulter? Why has he taken to Twitter to accuse him of political opportunism?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend—the one Conservative who signed up to that proposal—when he was Health Minister proposed a contract that was much tougher on junior doctors than the contract we have ended up introducing. This has been a very interesting U-turn on his part.

Photo of Oliver Colvile Oliver Colvile Conservative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

To take pressure off GPs, A&E units and junior doctors, may I urge my right hon. Friend to make full use of the pharmacy network and ensure that it can play its full part in a seven-day national health service?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

No health statement would be complete without a mention by my hon. Friend of the important role that pharmacies can play in solving absolutely any problem that the NHS faces. Once again, I commend his excellent contribution.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Labour/Co-operative, Stalybridge and Hyde

Whatever the Government’s aspiration, the fact is that we cannot run a health service on any day of the week without doctors who are willing to work in it. The reality is that the doctors I speak to in my constituency are exasperated. They are angry. They feel as though they have no choice. The Conservative party is kidding itself if it thinks that this is about the BMA making a political fight. There is a genuine strength of feeling about the way in which these people have been treated. That is shared by consultants and nurses, which is why they are willing to cover for their colleagues. The idea that the Government have no responsibility for the single biggest industrial dispute in the history of the NHS is, frankly, pathetic. People want to know why, if there is just one issue left to settle, imposition is necessary. Why can that not be taken off the table, so that negotiations can begin again and the strike avoided?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Because on that one issue—Saturday pay—the BMA said in writing last November that it would negotiate, but it tore up that agreement and said that it was not prepared to negotiate even one iota. That was why the agreement fell apart. The BMA could easily, had it stuck to its word, have negotiated an agreement and we would not have a strike today. The Government have been totally reasonable and fair throughout. The BMA has not. It is the BMA’s choice to call these strikes. It should think again, because this is the wrong thing for patients and the wrong thing for the NHS.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Conservative, Tamworth

Many of our constituents will be concerned, and indeed angry, at the thought that some of the most vulnerable people in our society—the old, the young and the sick—are being put at risk by what they will see as some of the most advantaged people in our society. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this could do tremendous reputational harm to the medical profession, and that that will do more to damage the morale of the medical profession than any bluster from the Opposition or the BMA?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. Medicine is a profession. It has very important values attached to it, the most famous of which are the Hippocratic oath and “do no harm”. It is a step too far to say that in pursuance of a pay dispute and more pay on a Saturday, you are prepared to withdraw emergency care from vulnerable patients. That is the wrong call for the medical profession, when the alternative on the table is to sit down and talk with a Government who want to work with the medical profession to provide safer NHS care.

Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale

A doctor who is a constituent and on the board of the BMA said in 2014 that he became politicised in the 1990s because he once crashed a car as a result of the gruelling hours he worked as a junior doctor. Does my right hon. Friend agree that with all the revisions to the proposals for doctors’ hours, this should be a thing of the past?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I totally agree with that. That is why, since then, junior doctors’ hours have been reduced, and under the new contract we are reducing yet again the maximum hours that junior doctors can be asked to work. Every doctor should welcome the new agreement, but because, unfortunately, the BMA has not chosen to negotiate sensibly despite exhaustive efforts, we are left with the very difficult decision as to whether we proceed with our plans for a seven-day NHS or whether we give up. I think that elected Governments should never give up on manifesto promises.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Junior doctors went into medicine to save lives, not to place them at risk. Does my right hon. Friend agree that by striking, junior doctors are putting people at risk? Can he confirm what the position would be if he had allowed contracts to lapse, and what the effect would be on the national health service?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I agree that the strikes are putting patients at risk. I think that what my hon. Friend means by the second part of his question is: what would have happened if we had just allowed the current contracts to roll over? The answer is that we would not have made progress towards a safer seven-day NHS, which will be of enormous benefit to his constituents and mine.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Conservative, Sherwood

Will the Secretary of State use the Dispatch Box this afternoon to appeal directly to junior doctors to ignore the militant BMA, to turn up to work tomorrow, to acknowledge that the Government have met the BMA over 70 times and made more than 70 concessions round the negotiating table, and to put patients first and make sure that my constituents get the level of health service, seven days a week, that they so deserve?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend speaks extremely wisely. I say to every junior doctor in the country that what they want from our NHS—safe service and safe care for patients across every day of the week—is what we want as well. This Government are committed to the NHS. We are this year putting the sixth biggest increase in resources into the NHS in its history, so we are putting our money where our mouth is. We want to sit down with the medical profession and make this work for patients.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Will my right hon. Friend tell me whether my understanding of the Saturday pay dispute is correct? On the one hand the BMA wants time and a half throughout a Saturday. On the other, Her Majesty’s Government are offering time and a half between midnight on Friday and 7 on a Saturday morning, time plus 30% between 7 o’clock in the morning and 5 o’clock in the afternoon for those who have worked more than one in four Saturdays, time plus 30% between 5 o’clock in the afternoon and 9 o’clock, and time and a half between 9 o’clock and midnight. My constituents in Kettering had sympathy for the junior doctors but are totally opposed to the withdrawal of lifesaving emergency care, especially when the difference between the doctors’ position and that of the Government is so narrow.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend speaks wisely, as ever, on this. The fact is that we have moved a very long way to meet one of the BMA’s biggest concerns, that there should still be premium pay on Saturdays. For doctors who work regularly at weekends this is a very good deal—better than that for pretty much anyone else in the public sector. That is why we think that the reasonable thing to do would have been to accept the deal and not to call these wholly unnecessary strikes.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

I know my right hon. Friend will agree that a dispute over pay cannot justify a threat to withdraw emergency cover. Will he confirm that after the new contract comes in no doctor will be treating patients while working their 91st hour in the same week, and that he will be looking at the availability not just of junior doctors but of other support services that are needed to deliver the seven-day services we have pledged to provide?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is quite right to point out that the seven-day NHS vision is not just about junior doctors but about support services for junior doctors that will make the provision of care to their patients at weekends not just better for those patients but much more rewarding for them. It is immensely frustrating for doctors not to be able to get diagnostic tests back quickly because it is the weekend. We want to sort out all those problems. That will be better for doctors and better for patients.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

Whatever the objections to this contract, and however sincerely they are held, withdrawing emergency care for seriously ill patients cannot be on the list of options. On Saturday pay, will the Secretary of State bring absolute clarity to something that may have been misrepresented, or at least misunderstood: will doctors who work regular Saturdays —that is, more than one in four—continue to receive a pay uplift?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Yes, they will. That is the main outstanding issue of a very small handful of issues that were not resolved. We went a very long way towards what the BMA wanted. We are reducing premium rates for Saturday pay, but are making up for that with a 13.5% increase in basic pay. That will mean that hospitals can roster more doctors at weekends and that the doctors who work the most weekends will continue to get premium pay for that extra work. It is a good thing for doctors and for patients.