Junior doctor dispute revealed HEE had 'lost sight of human side' of training

Health Education England (HEE) has taken steps to restore 'the human side' of medical training in a bid to tackle 'widespread disillusionment' among junior doctors revealed during last year's contract strikes.

Professor Wendy Reid (Photo: Pete Hill)
Professor Wendy Reid (Photo: Pete Hill)

Junior doctors will be allowed to swap placements with other doctors if they have been assigned to different areas from their spouse or partner to help them protect family life and relationships, HEE has said.

It will also ‘create more flexibility’ in the system for deploying junior doctors to placements to take account of family, health and disability needs that may tie them to certain locations.

The reforms are among measures the organisation has taken to improve conditions for junior doctors following the dispute over their contract last year, according to an HEE report published this week entitled Enhancing junior doctors’ working lives.

Medical training

The contract dispute highlighted ‘a number of issues involving their training and working environment’, HEE said, with widespread reports of low morale, unhappiness, anger and disillusionment. Many concerns that have influenced changes put in place by HEE sat outside of the contract.

HEE medical director Professor Wendy Reid said she believed that officials had ‘lost sight of the human side of working as a doctor in training in the NHS’ in development of postgraduate training.

The organisation has also implemented new legal protections for junior doctors raising patient safety concerns, by extending whistleblowing protection and opening new legal routes against HEE if trainees believe raising concerns caused them detriment.

Work is underway to try reduce the cost of training to individual trainees, such as examination costs, HEE has said.

Junior doctors will also now receive more notice of their future placements, informed with 12 weeks’ notice as opposed to eight.

Junior doctors

Professor Reid said in the report: 'I believe that with the development of postgraduate medical education and training from the time of the Calman report we, collectively, had lost sight of the human side of working as a doctor in training in the NHS.

'Despite the best intentions of all concerned, reports of lack of information about rotations and on call duties prior to starting a new job were common. Different interpretations of the many rules governing training were a source of frustration.

'The rising costs of developing as a professional mandated by regulation were a major concern. These were just some of the issues raised during talks between the [BMA junior doctors committee] and NHS Employers.'

She added: ‘This report makes clear the excellent progress made on addressing some of the challenges that were highlighted to us by doctors in training ranging from new legal protection for juniors raising patient safety concerns and the impact on their training to an agreement that HEE will develop a policy to enable joint applications from couples.

NHS morale

‘It is important that we demonstrate to junior doctors that we have listened to their concerns and issues and that we have acted to resolve them. Junior doctors should not have to compromise their training to deliver the service.'

Charlie Massey, GMC chief executive, said: ‘It is clear to all of us working in the health system that for some time there has been a raft of non-contractual issues, across the UK, that have eroded morale among junior doctors.

'The way in which post-graduate training has developed has contributed to some of the problems that currently exist, and the GMC will be setting out our conclusions on how those need to addressed at the end of March.’

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