Junior doctors lose their judicial review challenge to Jeremy Hunt’s new contract

Thursday 29 September 2016

The claimant group, Justice for Health, brought the claim for judicial review arguing the new contract was "unsafe and unsustainable" and that Jeremy Hunt did not have the power to impose it. However, Mr Justice Green ruled the Health Secretary had acted "squarely" within his powers.

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Justice for Health v Secretary of State for Health (NHS Confederation and British Medical Association (BMA) intervening) [2016] EWHC 2338, 28 September 2016

The claimant group, Justice for Health, brought the claim for judicial review arguing the new contract was "unsafe and unsustainable" and that the Secretary of State for Health did not have the power to impose it.

However, Mr Justice Green ruled the Health Secretary, Mr Hunt, had acted "squarely" within his powers.

The judge was also asked to consider whether Mr Hunt's actions lacked clarity and transparency and whether he acted irrationally in pursuing the new contract on the basis he believed it would help improve the quality of care at weekends.

On both Grounds, Mr Justice Green found for the defendant. The judge said that Mr Hunt was entitled to believe changing staffing at weekends would have "some, material" impact.

The new contract changes the way doctors are reimbursed for weekend working. Instead of Saturdays and Sundays being divided up between normal and unsocial hours, a system of supplements will be paid which depend on how many weekends a doctor works.

Health ministers have insisted the contract is needed to improve levels of medical cover in hospitals at weekends so that the NHS can deliver seven-day services, despite some dispute as to the validity of the evidence relied on by the Secretary of State.

The new contract comes into effect next week. The dispute has led to six separate strikes by junior doctors, including the first all-out stoppage in the history of the NHS. The British Medical Association had planned a run of five-day strikes in the four months leading up to Christmas, but recently called these off following concerns over patient safety.

In May, it looked as though a breakthrough had been reached in the dispute after both sides agreed to a new deal. However, the government announced in July that it would impose a new contract after junior doctors and medical students voted to reject the deal.

Transcript: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2016/2338.html

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