Junior doctors who want to raise concerns about patient safety or other issues relating to their working lives will now be able to do so without fearing for their jobs, after the BMA negotiated new legal protections.
HEE (Health Education England) will place a provision in contracts which allows junior doctors to take the health body to the courts without fear of any detrimental effects on their careers.
Having raised this issue with the health secretary as an outstanding major concern among junior doctors — one of a series of outstanding concerns about the proposed new junior doctor contract — BMA junior doctors committee chair Ellen McCourt has hailed this as a ‘significant win’.
Other issues at her meeting with the health secretary in July included the guardian of safe working hours, less-than full-time pay and valuing weekend working.
Elected as JDC chair last month, Dr McCourt said: ‘This will ensure that junior doctors have full legal protection when speaking out.
‘The absence of robust whistleblowing protections in the Government’s proposed contract has been a key patient safety concern for many junior doctors.’
The protections close a loophole which meant HEE — which will change the contracts voluntarily — was not considered an employer under UK law, meaning the organisation had no legal responsibility for whistleblowers.
Dr McCourt said: ‘It is vital that junior doctors are able to report concerns without feeling like they are putting their career at risk.
'Closing this loophole will ensure junior doctors will be able to make protected disclosures to protect patient safety with full legal protection.’
In July junior doctors and medical students across England voted to reject the Government’s proposed new contract.
The details of the proposed new terms and conditions for junior doctors were outlined following Acas talks between the BMA and the Government in May.
It came after a bitter contract dispute in which junior doctors in England took industrial action on five occasions.
Junior doctors in England voted in a referendum on whether or not to accept the contract following a series of more than 130 roadshows that took place across England explaining the terms and conditions of the deal.
With a turnout of 68 per cent — around 37,000 junior doctors and medical students — 42 per cent voted in favour of the contract, while 58 per cent voted against.
A BMA survey highlighted a number of areas of outstanding concerns were likely to have driven the result — including better protections, now secured, for whistleblowers.
HEE medical director Professor Wendy Reid said: ‘HEE has always supported doctors in training to speak up if they have concerns about patient safety. Although we are not an employer of junior doctors, we recognise that we have significant influence over their careers.
‘We do not believe that HEE has caused any detriment towards whistleblowing trainees; however, we wish to remove any perception that might prevent patient safety or other issues being raised.
'The contractual rights we have provided are voluntary on HEE and are a very significant increase in trainees’ rights.
'We feel that it is absolutely right that we make this change today and remove a potential barrier to junior doctors raising legitimate concerns about the quality and safety of patient care and other matters.
‘The right of junior doctors to make protected disclosures without fear of detriment has been one of the BMA's key concerns during the non-contractual discussions they have held with us.
'HEE is already a prescribed person under existing whistleblowing legislation, but we have worked with the BMA and NHS Employers to address the status of HEE and add this further protection. '
'We have written to local employers to ensure that this new right is granted and will ensure that this is publicised effectively.’
Read an interview with Ellen McCourt
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