• Sir Bruce Keogh says BMA must have clear guidance around major incidents in light of Paris attacks
  • NHS England medical director says patient safety of “paramount importance”
  • Letter calls on BMA to advise doctors to return to work if wards are short staffed

Sir Bruce Keogh has called on the British Medical Association to ensure doctors would respond if there was terrorist attack while they were on strike.

Bruce Keogh

Bruce Keogh

Sir Bruce Keogh’s letter asked for clarification on types of strike action

Junior doctors have voted overwhelmingly for strike action over government plans to impose a new contract, the BMA announced this morning.

The NHS England medical director also raised doubts about existing BMA advice to junior doctors in the event of a major incident being declared. He suggested the NHS did not have a clear understanding of what action doctors were being asked to take.

In a letter to the BMA council chair Dr Mark Porter, dated today, Sir Bruce said: “In light of the tragic events in Paris last Friday night, and the ongoing threat level in the UK, we need to ensure we have a clear understanding of arrangements should a major incident be declared. Will the BMA ensure that members will be available to respond to a major incident, whether this is declared because of a sudden single event or an unprecedented surge in activity? Will junior doctors, who would otherwise have been rostered for duty, make themselves available to respond in a timely way, within one hour of a major incident being declared?”

Sir Bruce also raised concerns over safe staffing levels of doctors in hospitals and asked whether the BMA would advise its members that they would need to return to work in the event of a major incident.

He said: “Your guidance also appears to say that doctors who are taking action, on 8 and 16 December, should not provide emergency cover. If, as part of our assurance work, we identify employers who cannot provide safe staffing levels to meet emergency care and are unable to find that cover elsewhere, I would be grateful if you could confirm that you will advise your members that they should provide cover in such circumstances.

“Rather than just referring to the GMC guidance I think it would be helpful to protect doctors for the BMA proactively publicise and explain to its members the need to comply with the [General Medical Council] guidance setting out the individual responsibilities of doctors. Can you confirm that you will communicate directly with your members to remind them of their individual professional responsibilities?”

The letter asked for clarification over the type of strike action that will be taken on 1 December.

Sir Bruce said: “We have received information from a range of NHS trusts that there is significant confusion with regards to ‘action short of a strike’ and the exact implications of this action. We would be grateful if you would be able to provide further information as to what form this action would take so that we can provide the appropriate protection to junior doctors that their actions are not in breach of the GMC guidance on the duties of a doctor.”

Sir Bruce told the BMA he needed to consider the implications of any action for the NHS and patients, adding: “patient safety is of paramount importance”.

“I would reiterate to both sides that I believe the best way to ensure patient safety is for the planned action not to take place. I would strongly urge you, even at this late stage, to come back to the negotiating table,” he said.


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