Totnes MP Dr Sarah Wollaston called for both sides in the dispute over a threatened contract imposition to step back, warning that industrial action would not benefit patients.
Speaking at a BMA fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, the former GP said junior doctors were ‘not in any mood to pick up the bill’ for the government’s planned seven day NHS.
Dr Wollaston was quizzed about a Guardian article by former Conservative health minister Dr Dan Poulter in which he revealed that the contract at the centre of the current dispute was different to the one he had been negotiating with junior doctors over last year. Dr Poulter accused the DH of dramatically changing its position and attempting to impose pay cuts in order to help plug the NHS funding gap and fund government ambitions for a seven-day service.
The proposed contract could further discourage doctors from choosing careers in specialties with shortages, such as general practice, and could ‘compromise patient safety’, said Dr Poulter.
Dr Wollaston told the fringe event: ‘I think what has probably changed is, going back to the point about seven-day working, and that seven-day working wasn't factored into the costing of the £8bn in the Five Year Forward View. And because it wasn't costed in there, junior doctors, I'm afraid, are not in any mood to pick up the bill themselves.’
Dr Wollaston, whose own daughter is a junior doctor who moved to work in Australia, added: ‘I think it would be better now for both sides to be able to step back ... and go back to the drawing board and look at this in the round.’
She warned: ‘There could be great unintended consequences if in pushing for a contract we end up, paradoxically, losing far more of our skilled workforce.’
Dr Wollaston said the junior doctors’ contract should address all the issues affecting workforce shortages and morale, including pay. ‘I think the solution is to go to junior doctors themselves and say what are the mechanisms you feel would work within the negotiated contract. So, let's step back and start again. Going towards industrial action will be bad for patients, bad for doctors, and bad for everyone.’
A DH spokeswoman said claims that the DH had changed its stance on the junior doctor deal were 'incorrect'.
'Our proposals will mean average pay will not go down and there is no intention to increase working hours. In fact, we want to offer more safeguards over total hours worked for junior doctors than ever before. We call on the BMA junior doctors committee to re-enter negotiations and work with us to put in place a new contract that’s safe for patients and fair for doctors.'