• Mike Durkin says new contract addresses “failings” in current agreement
  • He urges “dialogue” and for doctors to “press their representatives to talk to employers”
  • Warns people can “fall into positions… that owe more to institutional or group loyalty than to the evidence”

NHS England’s national director for patient safety has said the new junior doctors’ contract “will not be unsafe or dangerous for patients”.

Last month Jeremy Hunt announced the government would impose the new contract in August, after talks with the British Medical Association broke down. In response the BMA announced three 48 hour strikes, the first of which will begin at 8am on Wednesday.

Mike Durkin

Mike Durkin

Mike Durkin wrote his letter with a ‘degree of trepidation’

In an open letter sent on Friday, Mike Durkin says: “I want to make my own view very clear that the new contract will not be unsafe or dangerous for patients.”

Dr Durkin, who is also set to lead the new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, said he had written the letter with a “degree of trepidation”.

“I am aware that in the current context and in our world of instant reactions on social media, passion can sometimes outrun thought, and people who are kind and reflective in person can be uncharitable when commenting on the views of colleagues,” he writes.

Dr Durkin argues that the new contract recognises “failings” in the current deal and will deliver safety benefits including limits on working hours, improved shift patterns and “safeguards to ensure the safety provisions are delivered in practice”.

He writes that the proposal for employers to set out personalised learning outcomes and contracted hours for junior doctors will be “key” to the implementation of the contract, and if that does not happen “junior doctors must be able to report exceptions without fear”.

He also draws attention to the “increased role of the CQC” in scrutinising junior doctors’ working time. “Financial sanctions” must be imposed where trusts have failed to respond to reports from doctors that their conditions are unsafe, he says.

Dr Durkin appears to call for an end to the industrial action by the BMA and for “dialogue” over how patient safety is best achieved.

“I would ask that we focus our energy on working together to build a culture of safety for patients that has decent, safe working conditions for staff at its heart and I recognise that this is not the view of some who have said that they believe patient safety is being put at risk by the new contract,” he writes.

“Dialogue is the best way to resolve this, and I would therefore urge junior doctor colleagues to press their representatives to talk to employers about their safety concerns and work with them to ensure the contract supports the desire we all share to make the NHS the safest health care system in the world.”

He ends the letter by saying people can “fall into positions… that owe more to institutional or group loyalty than to the evidence before us”.

“I would therefore strongly encourage colleagues who are weighing up what action to take to consider what the contract actually says in making their decision.”