RCP Trainees Committee statement on junior doctor contract negotiations

The Trainees Committee of the Royal College of Physicians of London (RCP) represents physicians in training up to consultant level – the group of ‘junior doctors’ who it is reported will have a new contract imposed on them in August 2016.

The Trainees Committee of the Royal College of Physicians of London (RCP) represents physicians in training up to consultant level – the group of ‘junior doctors’ who it is reported will have a new contract imposed on them in August 2016. Our role as part of the RCPL is to advocate for standards of care and medical practice. We are grateful to RCP president Professor Jane Dacre for her recent statement on behalf of both doctors in training and the wider college. As the Trainees Committee, we feel that the impact of an enforced contract on those that we directly represent is such that a separate, additional statement is warranted. We are extremely concerned that this new contract will jeopardise services already at breaking point, compromising patient safety.

The primary concern of all doctors is the welfare of their patients. In our specialities ‘junior doctors’ include highly experienced doctors who manage critically ill patients with conditions from strokes to acute asthma. These doctors are often the most senior doctor on site, responsible for a large proportion of patients admitted as an emergency.

The stress of such demands has increased significantly in recent years. Doctors’ morale is as low as it has ever been. The obvious disillusionment of doctors in training has become such a disincentive that some physician specialties are struggling to recruit, particularly those specialising in acute care and the care of frail older people. We are concerned that the current low morale will dissuade future generations of medical students from entering training, creating a staffing crisis for years to come. 

‘Junior doctors’ recognise the need to provide a round-the-clock service, working evenings, weekends and nights; often with unpaid overtime to ensure good care. Increasing numbers of doctors are now questioning the impact of this commitment on their own health and the wellbeing of their families. It is vital to ensure that junior doctors are enabled to treat their patients. Changes such as the reclassification of Saturday evening as the working week, and lack of pay progression for those contributing to research or teaching, are potentially devastating to doctors’ sense of how they are valued. 

Thoughtless imposition of a new contract would further increase the strain on the NHS and risks provoking more junior doctors and new consultants to work outside England. Existing gaps in acute medical staffing levels currently filled by locums will increase in number, pushing up NHS costs and diminishing the continuity of care and teamwork that maintain the standards expected by our patients. A service working in crisis mode risks insufficient time for training, causing key skill shortages in future years.

Junior doctors are frequently told that they are the future of the NHS. We are extremely concerned that the proposed new contract will damage the standard of care available to future patients. We, as the trainees committee of the Royal College of Physicians of London, urge meaningful negotiation rather than the enforcement of a contract that risks resulting in anything less than high quality care for all patients.

  • Dr Ruth Dobson (Chair)
  • Dr Giles Major (Vice Chair)
  • On behalf of all members of the Trainees Committee of the Royal College of Physicians of London

For more information please contact Linda Cuthbertson. Interim Director of Strategy, Communications and Policy. 020 3075 1254. 07748 777919