• Jeremy Hunt says there is no point in further negotiation because of the stance taken by the BMA
  • Health secretary claims proposed junior doctors’ contract is “much safer than what we have at the moment”
  • Says asking if he has the confidence of NHS staff is “wrong question to ask in the middle of a heated industrial relations dispute”
  • Hunt claims to be “more in tune with doctors” than BMA committee

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said there is nothing that will prevent the government from imposing the new junior doctors’ contract, telling HSJ “the matter is closed”.

Mr Hunt also said that the move was “right for doctors”, the new contract was “much safer” than the current deal and he was “more in tune with doctors” than the British Medical Association.

Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt said the BMA is ‘brilliantly clever at winding everyone up on social media’

The health secretary was speaking at a meeting convened by HSJ to discuss the government’s health policy and Mr Hunt’s leadership. Also present at the meeting were BMA council member and Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group chair Sir Sam Everington, Health Foundation chief executive Jennifer Dixon, Central and North West London Foundation Trust chief executive Claire Murdoch and HSJ editor Alastair McLellan.

The meeting took place on Tuesday, before the BMA’s junior doctors committee announced that it will escalate a strike planned for 26 and 27 April to include the withdrawal of emergency care.

Mr Hunt said there was no point in further negotiation because of the stance taken by the BMA.

He said: “The matter is closed. We’ve been trying to discuss this now for three years, and I think the wrong thing to do in the face of unreasonable behaviour is say, ‘Well, in that case we’re going to back down’. I think the right thing to do is ask what is right for patients, what’s right for the NHS, and what in the end is right for doctors?”

The health secretary claimed the proposed junior doctors’ contract is “much safer than what we have at the moment” and that he was “more in tune with doctors” than the BMA junior doctors committee, “because I really care about the things that doctors care about – the safety of patients”.

Mr Hunt added: “I think we could have had a deal if the BMA had agreed to negotiate on Saturday premium rates as they said they would just before Christmas. But they went back on that and said they wouldn’t and then we were advised by [Salford Royal Foundation Trust chief executive] Sir David Dalton that there was no negotiated outcome possible.”

Sir Sam said he believed the point of the new contract was “not about money, because there isn’t a saving” nor “about seven days [as] junior doctors work seven days anyway”, and asked “what’s the battle all about?”

Mr Hunt replied: “You never choose to have a battle like this. If it’s not about the money, why did the BMA tell everyone that their pay was going to be cut by a third?

“If it’s not about the hours, why did the BMA tell everyone that they were going to be forced to work longer hours?

“What we have had is a massive and totally irresponsible campaign of misinformation [by the BMA]. Which has hugely damaged morale.

“Goodness me, if I was a junior doctor and I was told by my union that the health secretary wants you to work longer hours for less pay and doesn’t think you work weekends, I would be absolutely furious.”

When asked if he felt he had the confidence of the majority of NHS staff, Mr Hunt said: “That is the wrong question to ask right in the middle of a heated industrial relations dispute.

“It’s absolutely inevitable when you are painted as the evil bogeyman by the BMA, who are brilliantly clever at winding everyone up on social media, that you’re not going to be Mr Popular.

“But what history will judge in five years or ten years’ time, is did I and did this government make the long term strategic calls necessary to help the NHS offer the highest possible quality of care for patients?”

The in-depth conversation with the health secretary is available here from March 30.