The Government’s decision to impose a new doctors’ contract presents a “real and immediate threat” to the NHS, Royal College leaders have said.
In an “unprecedented” letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the presidents of 14 colleges and faculties said the contract went against plans to recruit and retain staff and provide services over seven days.
The Government has said it plans to impose a new contract on doctors, up to consultant level, next year after negotiations with the British Medical Association (BMA) broke down.
The contract will reclassify doctors’ normal working week to include Saturdays and up to 10pm every night of the week except Sunday.
Medics argue they will lose out financially as evenings and Saturdays will be paid at the standard rate rather than a higher rate.
They have calculated that this will amount to pay cuts of up to 30 per cent for medical professionals.
The letter from the presidents of medical Royal Colleges and faculties said: “As currently proposed, the new contracts would regard most evening and weekend work as normal time.
“This would act as a disincentive to recruitment in posts that involve substantial evening and weekend shifts, as well as diminishing the morale of those doctors already working in challenging conditions.”
They argued there were already problems with recruitment, adding: “We must find ways to attract doctors to these areas of care, not drive them away”.
The letter was signed by leaders including Professor Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, Dr Clifford Mann, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and Professor Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs.
In a separate statement, the Royal College of Physicians said: “We are extremely concerned that this new contract will jeopardise services already at breaking point, compromising patient safety.”
It said doctors on the contract were responsible for a large proportion of patients admitted as an emergency.
They had huge demands on them already and morale was as low as it has ever been.
“Thoughtless imposition of a new contract would further increase the strain on the NHS and risks provoking more junior doctors and new consultants to work outside England,” it added.
Last week, in a letter to Mr Hunt, the training arm of the Royal Colleges warned of an “immediate risk” to healthcare and an “ongoing threat for generations to come”.
It said the contract failed “to offer safeguards on hours and working conditions necessary to ensure the safety of all the patients treated within the NHS, and risk a return of exhausted doctors and rise in medical errors.”
The news comes in the same week that Mr Hunt backed a campaign to urge junior doctors to become GPs amid turmoil over the proposed new contracts.
He said GPs are the “bedrock” of the health service and “there has never been a more exciting time to be a part of general practice”.
There is already a recruitment crisis in general practice and the Royal College of GPs says talented trainees will be deterred if the new contract goes ahead.