Junior doctor England

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Juniors reap back pay following contract breach

Mairi Thompson, Junior doctors committee
THOMPSON: It 'should have been very swiftly resolved'

Junior doctors have received back pay of £800,000 after a hard-fought battle against their trust regarding a contract breach.

It brings to an end a two-year dispute in which the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust refused to accept that the excessive workload of 100 foundation year doctors – uncovered by its own monitoring – breached their terms and conditions.

The back pay was awarded after the trust agreed the trainees should have received a band-three pay supplement instead of the ‘1a’ band they had previously received.

Trainees were informed of the rebanding following an appeal chaired by trust deputy medical director Julian Hobbs in July but payment was only made in December.

The rebanding is a significant victory for the doctors who were supported throughout by BMA industrial relations officers, employment advisers and lawyers.

BMA junior doctors committee chair Jeeves Wijesuriya said the case showed the importance of trainees flagging concerns about rotas with trusts. ‘Junior doctors often work long, often intense, hours,’ he added. ‘Cases like these demonstrate how vitally important it is for patient and doctor safety that trainees raise these concerns so that working hours can be properly monitored and rotas be made compliant. Also, so that where necessary, sanctions can be enforced where trusts have been found to be in breach of the rules.’


Irregular hours

The BMA was alerted to the breaches by two separate groups of junior doctors in July 2016 and December 2016.

The groups raised concerns after contractually required monitoring on their rotas indicated that they were not compliant because of the hours they had worked.

Rota monitoring is carried out (under the terms of the 2002 junior doctor contract) by trusts to determine if junior doctors’ working patterns are safe and compliant.

BMA Mersey regional junior doctors committee chair Mairi Thompson said the battle for rebanding had required much support from BMA representatives and staff.

‘They have worked very, very hard for what should have been a very swiftly resolved rebanding,’ she added.

‘The trust resisted a quick resolution, which makes it difficult for trainees, as they’re very early on in their careers.’


No breaks

For the groups, rota monitoring checks by the trust revealed they had worked more hours than their contract allowed and had not received breaks, as required by the new deal and European working time regulations.

The trust refused to settle the banding claims informally, forcing the BMA to lodge a case at the employment tribunal. This case was stayed when the trust finally agreed to the banding, which found in favour of both groups of foundation doctors.

The trust claimed the foundation year doctors had been instructed to take their breaks.

But Dr Thompson described this as a ‘common argument’ levelled at junior doctors. ‘Everyone is aware they should. But when the workload is heavy it is not always possible and there isn’t always enough support staff around.’

She added: ‘We would advise anyone thinking that they are working over their hours – either individually or collectively – to keep records and follow up informal telephone calls with e-mails and have everything written.’

Banding and monitoring are a feature of the 2002 terms and conditions for doctors in training across the UK, but in 2016 a new set of terms and conditions was introduced in England which has a different process.

Trainees working under this new contract now are encouraged to use the system of exception reporting to flag up in real time with their supervisers when they are being required to work beyond their scheduled hours or miss their breaks, for immediate resolution.

Liverpool ST1 Clare Buffery, who was affected by the rebanding dispute, said: ‘The appeal has been a long process but with the help of the BMA we were able to hold the trust to account over our working patterns.

'I would encourage anyone in a similar position to stand their ground and involve the BMA to make sure you get the right outcome. We are all pleased with the result and can’t thank our BMA advisers enough for the support they’ve given us over the past year.’


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