Skip to main content

New Junior Doctor Contract

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 14 April 2016

1. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the effect on gender equality of the proposed new junior doctor contract. (904441)

16. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the effect of the proposed new junior doctor contract on women in that profession. (904458)

The Secretary of State fully understands his obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and his public sector equality duty. He is aware that he must pay due regard to each of the statutory equality objectives, which cover all of the protected characteristics, not just those that affect women. The new contract is a huge step forward for achieving fairness for all trainee doctors. For the first time, junior doctors will be paid and rewarded solely on the basis of their hard work and achievement, whether they work full or part time. Pay progression will be linked to the level of training rather than arbitrarily to time served. On 31 March, we published the equality analysis and family test alongside the new national contract.

By next year the majority of doctors working in our NHS will be women, yet the Government have freely admitted in their own equality impact assessment of the new junior doctor contract that aspects of it will disproportionately hit female doctors, so how can the women and equalities department possibly condone this shocking treatment by the Government?

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this important matter to the attention of the House. I know that she will want to read the full equality impact assessment over the weekend, and she will find if she does so that it makes it clear that this contract is good for women, that it is a fairer contract and that it does not directly or indirectly discriminate against women. That is why I am very keen to see it implemented as fast as possible.

What estimate has been made of the expected drop in the number of women doctors five years after the contract has been imposed, and how will the skills gap be filled?

We anticipate that this contract is better for women in a series of different ways and we expect women to be able to engage more easily with the workforce than they have under the previous contract. We believe that it is better for working mothers and better for women who are taking time out for maternity leave. For those reasons, we hope that it will reinforce the continued progression of women in the medical workforce, of which we are very proud in the Department of Health.

Can the Minister confirm that the new contract will mean that those who work the most intense and unsocial hours will be better rewarded?

I can confirm that. It will also ensure that women will not be subjected to the enormously onerous hours enforced under the current contract, which make the balance between work and family life completely impossible.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that under the existing contract two doctors doing the same job with the same level of responsibility and the same hours can be paid differently, but that under the new contract the total number of hours that can be worked will be reduced from 91 to 72, and that that will be especially welcomed by female doctors?

I can confirm that and it shows once again my hon. Friend’s attention to the detail of the contract. It should be made clear to the House that the British Medical Association agreed almost all of the contract that we are now putting in place, including many of the aspects that the Opposition are now seeking to attack.

It surprised me to hear both the Minister today and the Prime Minister, during Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, claiming that the contract is good for women, when the equality impact assessment provided by the Minister’s own officials specifically says that it will have a disproportionate impact on women—an equality impact assessment that the Minister will not be at all surprised to hear that I have read in detail. How can it be right to introduce a contract, announce its imposition in Parliament in February and then only sneak out the equality impact assessment six weeks later during recess? Will he and his colleagues get back to the negotiating table and negotiate a contract that is good for patients and good for all junior doctors?

The hon. Lady is an expert in the history of equality impact assessments and the Equality Act 2010, and she understands it well. I must reassure her that through the entirety of the process the Secretary of State has been mindful of his duties under the Act, but not just for form. He is very keen to ensure that this contract is good for women, which is why at every single stage, both in negotiations with the BMA and in internal discussions, he has been mindful of his duties while trying to ensure that the contract is an improvement on the existing one. To be frank, we cannot return to negotiations with a party that does not wish to talk, and I urge the hon. Lady to get her colleagues to condemn the completely unnecessary action taken by the BMA, which put patients in danger.