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NHS staff launch legal challenge to junior doctor contract imposition

Doctors and patients to crowdfund justice and halt health secretary's proposals

14 March 2016

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A group of NHS staff and patients have announced they are to bring judicial review (JR) proceedings against the government for its imposition of new controversial contracts on junior doctors.

NHS staff have instructed Bindmans to consider a judicial review (JR) centring on the detrimental impact of the proposed contracts on patient safety and stability of the health service.

While the British Medical Association (BMA) has already announced a legal action on grounds that the health secretary failed to carry out an equality impact assessment, the new challenge is significantly broader in scope, examining several aspects of the contentious decision to force the new contracts on junior doctors after talks to settle the dispute failed in February.

The group, backed by prominent medical staff and patient safety advocates, need to raise an initial £25,000 through crowdfunding to start investigation proceedings.

Dr Ben White, a campaign leader for the NHS choir that secured the Christmas No 1 spot in 2015, said: 'Forget the lies and propaganda. The imposition of the junior doctors' contract affects all NHS service users.

'Staff know that the lack of workforce planning, lack of cost modelling, plus rota and staffing issues, create a perfect storm where patient safety will inevitably be compromised.

'We must challenge this contract in the High Court. A judicial review would consider all relevant factors and hold the government accountable for decisions it has made. Ultimately, this is about public safety.'

The health secretary has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks for 'misrepresenting' data to forward his case for a seven-day NHS in England.

Jeremy Hunt MP argues that changes to contracts are essential to deliver a seven-day NHS, which he says will improve patient care and tackle higher death rates among weekend admissions. However, the 'facts and figures' presented by the Conservative minister have 'no basis in reality', NHS staff have argued.

'Through this process, we will uncover whether the government has considered the full implications of the dangers of this contract imposition, and whether the decision was legally made,' the group of medics bringing the JR said in statement.

Dr Francesca Silman said: 'It is clear the government has not considered the implications of their plans financially, practically, or in terms of impact on patient safety. In a recent Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee review, it was suggested that the senior department of health chief, Charlie Massey, was "flying blind" on this issue. We cannot tolerate politics placed before patient welfare.'

In the same committee review, David Mowat MP said: 'I am surprised that you can put this [seven-day NHS] policy in place without having some idea of the implication for staffing levels at the headcount planning level... or, indeed, for cost and budget.'

Dr Phil Hammond, vice-president of the Patient's Association, called on the public to support the JR, saying: 'No one can say whether the new contract will be better or worse for patients than the existing one. Medicine is littered with examples where expert and political opinion has trumped proper scientific evaluation, at huge cost to patients.'

Simpson Millar medical negligence partner Peter Stefanovic, a high-profile opponent to the government's plans for junior doctors, recently called on lawyers to back their medical counterparts in the ongoing contract dispute.

Bindmans is no stranger to funding legal challenges via crowdfunding. Last week, in conjunction with three clients, the firm launched a campaign to raise money for a new challenge on the lawfulness of the UK's ban on assisted dying.

Images credited to Alexander Christie

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