HCSA President, Dr Claudia Paoloni has written to NHS Employers to seek assurances following the issuing of a joint statement on junior doctor terms and conditions, which sets aside vital contractual safeguards while the NHS responds to Covid-19.
The 2016 Terms & Conditions for NHS Doctors and Dentists in Training contain baseline standards for safe working hours and rest, designed to protect doctors from burnout and to keep patients safe.
Even before the crisis began, many Trusts had not yet fully implemented the new contract, meaning that many junior doctors have been regularly working without contractual safeguards for a significant amount of time.
The new statement gives Trusts the power to set aside those safeguards altogether. It is unclear how long the guidance will remain valid.
HCSA’s letter to NHS Employers asks for assurances that any variations to working practices should only be implemented:
- As a last resort
- Where it is safe to do so
- Following consultation with staff and trade unions
- For a defined period
Further detail has also been requested on the role of exception reporting and rates of pay for additional hours.
HCSA President Dr Claudia Paoloni said: “Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, junior doctors have been on the frontline of the NHS response, demonstrating an exceptional level of commitment.
“This ongoing crisis will lead to the twin challenges of unprecedented levels of demand and a significant level of staff sickness. While this will undoubtedly create workforce challenges, employers must resist the temptation to move to unsafe and unsustainable working practices.
“It is more vital than ever to ensure that the wellbeing of the workforce is protected in order to keep staff and patients safe. Working patterns which increase the rates of burnout and sickness absence will ultimately create more problems than they solve.
“We are therefore asking for confirmation that contractual safeguards will only be removed as a last resort and only for as long as it is absolutely necessary.”