Jeremy Hunt’s imposition of a new junior doctor contract might not work

Individual foundation trust hospitals have the power to choose to ignore the imposition of the now much vilified junior doctor contract in relation to new trainees in August 2016.

There is an opt-out for foundation trusts which could potentially stop the imposition of contracts before it takes off the ground. Foundation trusts are the largest hospitals and groups of hospitals within the UK and they number 152. Those hospitals that are not under foundation control will be obliged to impose this new contract across all of their junior doctor cohort inclusive of trainees.

Foundation Trusts are awarded a quasi-independent status from central Government which is the reason why this opt-out is in place for them. It would appear that Foundation Trusts are in a stronger position than non-foundation trust hospitals to offer local contracts to their junior doctors. The issue that has not been cleared up is quite how the relationship between Trusts and Government might work when a Trust purposefully defies the Government’s position.

In defending the new contracts, Jeremy Hunt previously relied on a letter to evidence that 20 foundation trust leaders agreed with the move to impose these contracts. However, these individuals have since distanced themselves from the letter, stating that they did not agree to back such a step.

The imposition of a contract on junior doctors has been fiercely fought by the BMA doctors’ union especially regarding the issue of Saturday working being included as part of the normal working week. The Junior Doctors’ committee of the BMA is due to meet on 20 February where it is understood that a legal challenge to Jeremy Hunt may be on the table. This is when we are likely to know the next move in this drawn out game of chess.

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