The health secretary has been accused of gambling with people’s lives, after it was revealed that the government had made “no specific assessment into modeling patient safety” for the proposed changes to junior doctors’ contracts.

The revelation was the result of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Department of Health, and comes amid news that negotiations between the government and the British Medical Association (BMA) over junior doctor contracts have broken down, with fresh strikes scheduled for Tuesday.

Dr Marie-Estella McVeigh, a junior doctor in London commented:

“For all of us, the strikes, planned to start on Tuesday, are the last resort to make Jeremy Hunt listen to the issues that we face on the front line of patient care. This is not about getting more money; the Government and BMA have agreed right from the start that the total cost of changes remains neutral, there’s no increase in the pay bill.

“As doctors we are deeply concerned about safety. We feel the Government are not listening to our concerns and are playing games by ignoring 50,000 junior doctor whistle-blowers.”

Junior doctors are concerned that the new contract proposed by Jeremy Hunt will lead to increasingly unsafe working patterns without adequate rest and recovery, which could put patients lives at risk.

A recent study into fatigue and medical errors, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in September 2009, found that increased fatigue could result in medical errors rising by as much as 15%.

Initially the government was content to remove the safeguards entirely, but under pressure from the BMA created the role of ‘guardian’ to protect junior doctors from working unsafe hours. However, the government insists that hospital trusts make this appointment without input from the BMA, which doctors fear will lead to a conflict of interest where guardian’s true agenda could be to help overstretched hospital trusts to cut costs, rather than end the unsafe practice.

Dr Nadia Masood, an anaesthetic trainee in London said:

“We work hard to keep our patients safe and want to continue doing so. You wouldn’t drive for 13 hours without proper breaks, yet the government want to remove vital safeguards in their version of the new contract. Tired doctors make mistakes, this contract doesn’t protect patients or staff adequately.”

“We chose this profession because of an innate passion for the care of people, but these reforms are showing a lack of that for both the public and us. We cannot gamble with people’s lives, plain and simple.”

Following the Government’s continued failure to address doctors’ concerns that no proper safeguards have been put in place, and in advance of strikes scheduled for Tuesday, a number of junior doctors launched a faux betting shop, dubbed “Jeremy’s Punt”, outside a London hospital and Westminster.

The betting shop offered ‘Money Back’ if Hunt re-negotiates, ‘Evens on being treated by an overworked doctor’ and ‘3/1 on reforms causing a preventable medical error’.

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