Consultants told they will have to work weekends

Jeremy Hunt.

Jeremy Hunt.

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HEALTH Secretary Jeremy Hunt will tell hospital consultants he is calling time on their freedom to opt out of weekend working today.

He will set a September deadline for the British Medical Association (BMA) to agree to a new consultants’ contract and threaten to impose new terms and conditions if a deal cannot be reached.

Mr Hunt will also promise an end to “extortionate” overtime rates which allow consultants to earn £200 an hour over and above an average £118,000 salary.

In a direct attack on the principal organisation representing the medical profession, he will accuse the BMA of being a “road block to reforms that will save lives”.

Mr Hunt will say: “Around 6,000 people lose their lives every year because we do not have a proper seven day service in hospitals.

“No one could possibly say that this was a system built around the needs of patients - and yet when I pointed this out to the BMA they told me to ‘get real.’ I simply say to the doctors union that I can give them 6,000 reasons why they, not I, need to ‘get real.’

“They are not remotely in touch with what their members actually believe. I have yet to meet a consultant who would be happy for their own family to be admitted at weekends or would not prefer to get test results back more quickly for their own patients.”

The opt out for weekend working will be removed from the contracts given to newly-qualified doctors and the new consultants contracts will be in place by 2017.

Mr Hunt will promise to change consultants’ contracts as part of a speech at the King’s Fund health think tank that will set out how the Government plans to honour its commitment to make the NHS a genuinely seven-day a week service by 2020.

He will tell doctors they will not have to work longer hours overall as a result of the changes over weekend working.

But he will signal changes to pay grades in a move designed to make sure doctors are rewarded for “responsibility and achievement” not length of service in their job.

BMA council chairman Dr Mark Porter said: “Despite whatever the Health Secretary may claim, his simplistic approach ignores the fact that this is a much broader issue than just doctors’ contracts.

“Today’s announcement is nothing more than a wholesale attack on doctors to mask the fact that for two years the Government has failed to outline any concrete proposals for introducing more seven-day hospital services.”

The challenge to hospital consultants came as the Health Secretary unveiled a series of measures designed to increase patient power.

An Independent Patient Investigation Branch will be set up along the lines of the Air Accident Investigation Branch with the aim of creating a ‘no blame’ culture where the medical profession learns from mistakes that are made.

Next year will see new data on avoidable patient deaths and the quality of care offered by different hospitals published.

Hospital staff will also have access to someone to whom they can report concerns who is not their manager and their will be new moves to look at the use of digital technology in the NHS.