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Why the new junior doctor contract is bad for academic medicine and the UK's economy

As a clinician and academic, I was deeply saddened to see the Secretary of State for Health impose a new contract on junior doctors. The 55,000 junior doctors in England’s NHS are perhaps the most intelligent and highly educated and trained professional group in the country. They are perfectly capable of looking at the contractual changes being put forward by the NHS and drawing their own conclusions about the implications of the new contract for them. To say that they have been ‘brainwashed’ by extremist members of the British Medical Association, as some journalists and Conservative MPs have been implying, is ludicrous.

We also continue to hear from the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, that he believes that these contractual changes are needed to tackle higher weekend mortality in hospitals. This is an area in which I have and members of my department have published extensively. I am therefore fully aware of the research on this topic and the serious problems with some of the statements issued by Jeremy Hunt and the Department of Health (for example, see http://goo.gl/CEab0N). The UK Statistics Authority has written to the Department of Health about this matter but this letter does not seem to have had any effect on Jeremy Hunt or his officials.

Through my clinical and academic work, I am in regular contact with many junior doctors. They are becoming increasingly disillusioned and anxious about their future. Many are considering leaving the NHS to work overseas in countries such as Australia, New Zealand or Canada. Others are considering giving up their medical careers. The UK cannot afford to lose such highly trained professionals. As well as being essential for the NHS and the delivery of healthcare in England, junior doctors are also the clinical academics and medical scientists of the future. Healthcare-related industries such as pharmaceuticals are one of the few areas where the UK is still a world-leader. The future prosperity of these industries - and the economy of the UK - will be threatened by the loss of so many highly talented professionals.

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