Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will give the British Medical Association (BMA) six weeks to negotiate on changes for hospital consultants and junior doctors, or face a new seven-day contract.
The challenge is at the heart of a speech called The Conservatives, the true party of the NHS, which Mr Hunt will give to the King’s Fund in London. In it he also suggests that the BMA’s position may be contributing to 6,000 deaths a year.
Mr Hunt will say: “There will now be six weeks to work with BMA union negotiators before a September decision point. But be in no doubt: if we can’t negotiate, we are ready to impose a new contract.”
The Government expects the majority of hospital doctors to be on seven-day contracts by the end of the Parliament. It believes this will help deliver a better service to patients.
The Government wants to remove the ability to opt out from weekend and evening working from consultants’ contracts by April 2017.
In the speech, which sets out the direction of NHS reform for the next 25 years, Mr Hunt is expected to 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.
“Timely consultant review when a patient is first admitted, access to key diagnostics, consultant-directed interventions, ongoing consultant review in high dependency areas, and proper assessment of mental health needs: I will not allow the BMA to be a road block to reforms that will save lives.”
He will argue that the lack of a consistent seven-day hospital service means patients are 15% more likely to die if they are admitted on a Sunday, compared with a Wednesday.
He claims that patient care and staff morale have increased in hospitals such as the Salford Royal and Northumbria which already work a seven-day system.
He claims this is not about increasing the total number of hours worked every week by any individual doctor, which should always be within safe limits.
Mr Hunt will also pledge a cut back in the lucrative high-earning overtime payments that consultants can get.