Poor working conditions for junior doctors in the NHS could be harmful for patients who need emergency surgery, a study has found.
The research from Birkbeck, University of London, has found a strong disparity in the experiences of patients who have emergency surgery when comparing hospitals with good and poor environments and conditions for junior doctors.
Caroline Kamau, an organisational psychologist at the University, used data from inpatient surveys and Care Quality Commission reports about junior doctors’ experience in randomly selected English NHS trusts.
The research found a correlation between good patient experiences in trusts where junior doctors appear to be well supported, trained and staffing levels are good.
It suggests between 30 and 40 per cent of emergency patients undergo surgery and their original diagnosis and investigation is often carried out by junior doctors who can face ‘brutally’ busy shifts and lack training support, potentially putting staff at risk of making mistakes.
Dr Kamau said NHS leaders need to hire more senior staff and improve the working conditions of junior doctors.
She said: ‘Organisational support for junior doctors in the NHS is pivotal if we want to address these problems.’
It comes just days after junior doctors’ plans to take escalated industrial action were approved by BMA council.
Junior doctors will stage a full walkout for five days, from 8am to 5pm, from 12 September, followed by further dates to be confirmed – unless health secretary Jeremy Hunt returns to meaningful negotiations and cancels the imposition of his controversial new contract.
Mr Hunt has consistently refused to acknowledge the concerns of junior doctors – which include warning that Mr Hunt’s policy of extending ‘seven-day’ services has not been adequately resourced, with rota gaps already rife, and will stretch already struggling services even further.
BMA council chair Mark Porter said: ‘Junior doctors play a vital role in the everyday running of this country’s hospitals – often working through the night or at weekends and their job is being made ever more difficult by rota gaps, which are growing on a daily basis and a lack of support from employers and NHS leaders.
'The health secretary has mistreated, angered and picked a fight with the very group of people who are most responsible for ensuring emergency hospital services are available seven days a week already.
‘There is nothing wrong with an ambition to extend more services through seven days and improve quality of care in the NHS – but those sorts of promises must be adequately funded and resourced and no evidence to suggest this will be the case has yet been forthcoming.
‘Our hospitals face huge financial deficits, crippling funding cuts and a growing crisis in recruitment and retention of vital staff. It is time Mr Hunt laid his rhetoric to rest and concentrated on putting together a long-term plan to save our NHS.’
Doctors voted to reject the Government’s proposed new terms and conditions in July and the BMA has made repeated efforts during the past two months to work constructively with politicians to address the outstanding areas of concern.
Despite these efforts the Government is refusing to acknowledge junior doctors’ concerns and continues with its plan to impose the contract in October.
Key concerns raised by junior doctors include the impact the contract will have on those working less-than full time, a majority of whom are women, and the impact it will have on junior doctors working the most weekends, typically in specialties where there is already a shortage of doctors.
Read the study
Find out more about juniors' industrial action
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