Jeremy Hunt appears to have changed tack in the junior doctors’ dispute if the wording of his lawyers are to be believed. Gone is the spectre of an imposition of the junior doctors’ contract and in is the more conciliatory ‘introduction’ of the junior doctors’ contracts when their current contracts come to an end.
There is much politicking within this debate with Labour now keen to score points on the embattled Health Secretary. Regardless of how the change in direction of the debate is interpreted much damage has already been done with several strikes impacting on an under pressure NHS. Much of the debate revolves around the Government’s intention to have a 7 day a week NHS; something which is opposed by the doctors’ union especially when no financial incentive is to be found.
The move towards an introduction of contracts rather than the oft-cited imposition would be quite a climb-down for the Health Secretary who famously brought an end to talks with his announcement of imposition contracts following an impasse in talks that had gone on for several years.
The concept of an employer compelling its employee to accept new terms seems to ride against the very idea of employment law. If an employer imposes a contract without the employee’s acceptance the usual position is that they will be deemed to be in breach of contract and the original terms of the contract will prevail. The Government’s position to date is that this debate has rumbled on for too long, the indecision is causing serious damage to the profession and a definitive end to the debate must be reached. The Government appears to be playing with fire as junior doctors are in short supply and seem to be refusing to buckle to the pressure of imposition of contracts on junior doctors. The change in tone from Jeremy Hunt is a welcome shift which would seem to recognise the important role that junior doctors play; at the same time this would appear to contradict the message being put out by the Government that their position has not changed at all.