THE Government has urged doctors’ leaders to remove the threat of further industrial action after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt won a High Court battle over a new contract for junior doctors.
The Department of Health welcomed the news as it urged the British Medical Association to remove the threat of action.
On Saturday the BMA called off strikes planned for October, November and December after NHS England said the health service would not be able to cope with the scale of the industrial action.
But the union said it still opposes the contract being introduced for medics on October 5 and was planning “a range of other actions” to resist it.
Justice for Health, a group founded by five doctors, argued that Mr Hunt acted beyond the scope of his powers by compelling NHS employers to adopt the new deal.
But Mr Hunt said the complaint was without substance and Mr Justice Green agreed that the minister had approved the contract but had not compelled employers to adopt it.
He also said Justice for Health should pay £55,000 of the Health Secretary’s £150,000 bills.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We welcome this is a clear decision by the judge that the Secretary of State acted entirely lawfully.
“We must now move on from this dispute to the crucial job of making sure patients get the same high standards of urgent and emergency care every day of the week, which involves more than the junior doctors’ contract.
“We urge the BMA to remove all threat of further industrial action so we can work constructively with junior doctors to address their wider concerns and better recognise their vital importance to the NHS.”
Dr Ellen McCourt, the head of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee, said junior doctors still had “a range of options” to oppose the new contract - but refused to be drawn on what action they would take.
Some have suggested that doctors may work to rule.
Dr McCourt also insisted that it had not been a mistake to call five-day strikes. She said: “The BMA has not accepted the contract, we remain in dispute around the contract. There are still several outstanding concerns.
“We are looking at a variety of other options - we have not yet released those to our members - but what we need to do is find ways of challenging this at a more local level and using a variety of different methods. We’re still looking into them.” Some junior doctors have vented their fury on social media about the BMA’s handling of the contract and strikes, resulting in the rise of several splinter groups. Dr McCourt said: “We will not be abandoning our trainees who are moving to work under the imposed contract which they have not accepted. However, it is up to every individual trainee whether they choose to go to work on October 5.”
Justice for Health lawyers indicated there may be an appeal.
Saimo Chahal QC, who represents the campaign group Justice for Health behind the legal challenge, said the case was about the serious consequences which flowed from “loose” language: “The key message from the judgment is this: Mr Hunt is not imposing a contract on junior doctors, he never was, he did not suggest he was, he says he never thought anyone else thought otherwise.
“The Justice for Health junior doctors are thrilled to announce that they have succeeded in establishing beyond doubt that the Secretary of State for Health is not imposing the latest July 2016 contract on junior doctors.
“Further, that employers of junior doctors are not legally compelled to adopt the contract and that they can continue to negotiate on terms until agreement is reached.
“Without the courage and determination of the Justice for Health doctors in taking this legal challenge this position would not have been established.”