The Just Health group of junior doctors announced their plans to seek a judicial review of health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s contract imposition earlier this month after crowdfunding over £100,000 from the public to support the action.
The group, co-founded by two GP trainees along with junior doctor colleagues, has claimed Mr Hunt does not have the power to impose the contract on the majority of doctors.
The group, represented by human rights lawyers Bindmans, claimed that while the government could, in theory, impose the contract on doctors working for NHS trusts, it can only do so after consulting with relevant parties.
Junior doctor contract
The decision to impose, they said, was ‘legally flawed, unreasonable and not rational’.
In a response published on Monday, government lawyers dismissed the junior doctors’ claim. The secretary of state acted ‘entirely lawfully’, the letter said, in deciding to impose the contract.
It added that the government was not required by law to consult on the imposition of the contract.
The government also questioned whether the group were best placed to bring the action as the BMA, which the government said had ‘significantly greater knowledge’, had decided not to pursue the issues raised by Just Health.
The BMA is also seeking a judicial review over its claim the government failed properly to take account of its own equality impact assessment.
Just Health's lawyer Saimo Chahal QC of Bindmans said: ‘There is nothing unexpected in the secretary of state’s response. His reply is a mixture of trying to silence the doctors in their legitimate claim by saying they have no standing in this case, when they are the very people affected by his decision, this is illogical.
‘He says he will ask for costs security which demonstrates how unfair the contest is and the inequality of arms as, unlike my client, he has unlimited public funds at his disposal. He also says he does not agree with the limitation on his powers, again no surprise there.
‘We have no option but to issue the claim in these circumstances and allow the court to decide. My client is litigating on matters, which are of very great public significance, it is only right that these affairs should be put before the court for a decision as to whose interpretation is right.
‘I hope that the public will support this courageous decision – these doctors will not be bullied into submission.’
Just Health added: ‘Rather than work with healthcare professionals the secretary of state and the DH have continued to undermine staff in the media and in their policies, clearly driven far more vehemently by politics rather than patient care. We are very disappointed that the health secretary has yet to engage with any junior doctors or address any of our allegations and concerns.’
Junior doctors are set to stage their first full walk outs including emergency doctors on 26 and 27 April.
Just Health co-founders and GP trainees Dr Marie McVeigh and Dr Francesca Silman told GPonline from the picketline last week that details on the new contract had revealed it to be 'worse than feared'.