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Juniors Contract: “define terms that enable a return to the negotiating table”

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is deeply concerned by the ongoing dispute between Government and the British Medical Association over junior doctor contracts.

Last week we wrote to the Secretary of State highlighting our concern about the way in which the Government’s proposed contract changes continue to be linked to the delivery of seven day services.

We fully support seven day health care, but this requires the provision of a complete range of services, not just more doctors. In addition, the language used is unjustifiably frightening to parents and the public by suggesting that the safety of sick children is at risk due to a lack of round the clock support for junior doctors.

There is a severe shortage of junior paediatricians in the UK but we are a leading specialty when it comes to 24-hour, 7-day a week consultant availability. Our junior doctors are not left to make decisions alone and unsupported.

We have also communicated other concerns. In a meeting with the Secretary of State we pointed out that juniors work long hours, for less pay than their peers in comparable careers. Their morale, already severely affected by the imposition of austerity upon the health service and increasing fragmentation of services, is now at an all-time low.

We wish to see them valued and respected for their dedication and commitment and do not consider an imposed contract an appropriate way to resolve the current dispute.

We are in principle against flexible pay premiums because they are potentially divisive; we seek pay parity across specialties unless premiums are based upon transparent criteria, applied consistently to identify where intervention is necessary to address a severe recruitment crisis, and subject to review within a pre-defined period.

We are pleased by the assurance that pay progression will be maintained for junior doctors undertaking research training; high calibre researchers working in the NHS are essential if healthcare is to advance.

Regrettably the proposals continue to disadvantage those taking parental leave; this fails the Government’s own ‘family-friendly’ test, and is also a failure to recognise the importance of optimising opportunity for close parent involvement in infant care.

We urge Government and the BMA to break the current impasse, define terms that enable them to return to the negotiating table and agree a contract that is safe for sick children, fair to junior doctors and sustains our NHS.

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