Labour’s Deputy Leader has written to the Prime Minister calling for an inquiry into the scandal surrounding seven-day service implementation in the NHS and suspension of new junior doctor contract in the meantime.
Tom Watson demanded an inquiry after leaked internal papers highlighted significant problems with the 7-day proposals cited by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The leaked documents suggest the NHS has too few staff and too little money to deliver the government’s plan.
The biggest danger, the officials said, is “workforce overload” – a lack of available GPs, hospital consultants and other health professionals “meaning the full service cannot be delivered”.
The Department of Health sees the NHS’s 1.5 million staff, especially doctors, as a “barrier” to the high-profile but controversial ambition of increasing patients’ access to hospitals and GP surgeries at weekends “because they do not believe in the case for change”.
Hunt sees his new contract for junior doctors as a key stepping stone to implementing a 7-day service.
Juniors have held eight days of strikes to protest against the new contract, which is currently being imposed on them. They claim it ignores the need for extra doctors to enable the expansion of care.
In a letter to PM Theresa May, Watson said: “The seven-day NHS policy has nonetheless been used to justify imposition of a new contract upon junior doctors.
“That is wholly unacceptable, given the current paucity of evidence underpinning the policy.”
He added: “Imposition should be suspended and doctors allowed to remain on their current contract until such time as you can demonstrate the evidence justifying the policy.”
He also calls for a full inquiry preferably carried out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
Confidential DH papers drawn up for Hunt in late July and recently passed to the Guardian and Channel 4 News show that senior civil servants trying to deliver a key Tory election pledge have uncovered 13 major “risks”.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Over the past six years, eight independent studies have set out the evidence for a “weekend effect” – unacceptable variation in care across the week – and this Government is the first to tackle this issue.
“The benefits of a seven day service for patients are wide ranging and we make no apology for prioritising patient safety.”
Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: “Patient safety is very much at the forefront of doctors’ concerns, which these documents suggest is not the case for the government. We know that delivering weekend and night services to the standards developed by doctors will take proper funding and staffing.
“The government must make this investment for our patients and the future of the NHS rather than continue to mislead the public with what these documents show to be meaningless manifesto promises.”