The result of last week’s BMA ballot in favour of industrial action on the 1st, 8th and 16th December, means that, if all three dates go ahead, this will be the first time in history that an all-out strike has happened in the NHS.
We have strong empathy for the junior doctors and know that no doctor would make the decision to vote in favour of industrial action lightly or easily. We therefore recognise the depth of feeling on this issue, which has been plainly demonstrated by the high number of individuals who took part in the ballot, and the overwhelming result.
We have been clear to the Government that they would be wrong to try and impose a contractual settlement on junior doctors and have continued to call for a return to negotiations. We continue to believe that industrial action would be damaging to all those concerned and hope that the start of talks through ACAS today represents the first step on a road which will end the current impasse.
While we await the outcome of these initial talks, we must continue to assume industrial action will take place which is the right of every junior doctor. Clearly as clinicians our professional duty remains to the patient to ensure that their safety and care is maintained during any action. Below is a summary of guidance that we hope our members will find helpful in advance of industrial action next week.
All doctors have already directly received advice from the General Medical Council (GMC) in respect of their professional duties. This can be found on the GMC website. The British Medical Association (BMA) has also produced guidance for hospital doctors not involved in industrial action.
Consultant teams have a joint responsibility with their employers to ensure patient safety during industrial action. This means employers should be working with consultant teams to ensure there is 24/7 emergency cover for each service and adequate cover for hospital inpatients. This may require the rescheduling of non-urgent elective operations/out-patient clinics, with priority given to patients requiring urgent surgery or appointments (such as those on cancer pathways).
Consultants, SAS doctors and other allied health professionals should perform the tasks normally allocated to junior doctors during this period, with a priority on urgent and emergency tasks. Clear guidance should be given to nursing and other staff relating to accessing medical/surgical opinion during the dispute.
If you have concerns that your Trust is insufficiently prepared to cope with industrial action then these should be aired locally as soon as possible.
Advice and support
For our part we will be cancelling our own events that involve taking clinicians away from their hospitals on days of industrial action.
If there is anything further we can do to help support or advise local clinicians then please let us know. However, we very much hope that the involvement of ACAS will lead to a resolution of the current situation.
Professor Frank Dunn, President Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow
Mr Mike Lavelle-Jones, President Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
Miss Clare Marx, President Royal College of Surgeons of England