The Just Health group, founded by five junior doctors including two GP trainees, begins legal proceedings today against the DH over plans to impose the contract.
The group claims the health secretary does not have the legal powers to impose a contract on most juniors who are employed by independent NHS Foundation Trusts.
The group has pointed to what it believes is a significant shift in language in legal correspondence between its lawyers and the government.
Junior doctor contract
In the letters, the group claimed, the government referred to its intention to ‘introduce’ rather than impose the contract.
But Mr Hunt denied on social media that there had been any change in approach. ‘New contract will be introduced for FY1s from this August,' he tweeted.
@guardian story on junior docs contract completely wrong: no change of approach, new contract will be introduced for FY1s from this August.— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) April 17, 2016
GP trainee and Just Health co-founder Dr Marie-Estella McVeigh said: ‘The reaction of the government’s legal team in changing their use of language, vindicates our belief that the imposition of this dangerous new contract is fundamentally wrong, and as we suspected – illegal.’
Just Health raised more than £135,000 from a crowdfunding campaign in order to fund the judicial review. The group has also kept a vigil outside DH in Whitehall where they have said they will remain until Mr Hunt agrees to meet and talk with them.
Junior doctor strikes
The group’s case against the government alleged DH has no legal power to impose the junior doctors contract on the majority of doctors, and that where he could in theory impose it on the small proportion working for NHS Trusts, he could only do so after consultation.
The government’s lawyers have dismissed the claim as ‘misconceived' and 'bound to fail'.
Former Liberal Democrat health minister and lawyer Norman Lamb MP told The Guardian: ‘It appears that this is now in a state of shambles and that the secretary of state is in a hole and can’t move forward on this. The government’s latest legal position seems to show that Jeremy Hunt had no power to impose [the contract] all along.’
Mr Lamb added: ‘This is quite a dramatic change from the assumption that people have had that the health secretary is able to force junior doctors to abide by this contract. If he’s changed the language from ‘imposing’ to ‘introducing’, it may be that there’s no way the government can continue to try to get this contract implemented. It looks like the contract is dead in the water.’
A DH spokeswoman told The Guardian: ‘New terms are being introduced for junior doctors as their current contract expires – because agreement could not be reached with the BMA. The secretary of state decided the contract should be introduced based on advice from David Dalton.’
Junior doctors will begin the first of two planned full walkouts at 8am Tuesday 26 April with emergency doctors joining the picket lines for the first time in the ongoing dispute.