Junior doctors’ dispute: patients must come first

All of us working in the NHS are aware of the relentless increase in pressure on healthcare services. Key waiting time targets for cancer patients in England have been repeatedly missed such that failure to achieve them has become the norm.Performance in the first two months of this year matches the worst on record. Our own research has found that over a quarter of a million patients are waiting more than a month for the results of X-rays and scans. We have a severe workforce crisis in radiology with inadequate numbers in training. Most other European countries have two or three times as many radiologists as the UK per head of population.

This is not “talking down the NHS” but a clear statement of the facts of the current position.

Against this background we are more than ever concerned at the continuing impasse in the junior doctors’ contract dispute. A service which is severely understaffed cannot afford further demoralisation of the very staff on whom its future depends.

A recent survey of cancer specialists conducted by The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) and the Association of Cancer Physicians found that 95% consider that the contract to be imposed will adversely affect the care of patients with cancer. 52% of trainee cancer specialists reported actively considering leaving the NHS. This indicates an unacceptable level of risk to the viability of vital clinical services.

A solution to the contract dispute must therefore be found without further delay. Others have commented that the voice of patients has often been lost in the heat of this dispute. We propose that a role should be found for organisations representing patients to participate in a new round of discussions centred on finding a solution which supports rather than undermines high quality patient care.

The RCR also supports the calls of over 40 patient charities and many politicians across Parliament for an Independent Commission to consider the future funding of the NHS and Social Care system. (Ref a-b)

We urge the Government not to impose the planned new contract on junior doctors and the BMA in turn to call off the all-out strike by junior doctors planned for 26 and 27 April.

The RCR, through its members and Fellows in clinical radiology and clinical oncology, will continue to support junior doctor members in seeking a fair outcome which is good for patients.