The president of the Catholic Medical Association has called for justice for junior doctors as they fight a High Court battle over rest breaks.
Junior doctors claim patients could be at risk and doctors might quit the profession because trusts are failing to monitor trainee medics and make arrangements for them to take breaks in line with their contracts.
In a test case supported by the British Medical Association (BMA), Dr Sarah Hallett says it is the responsibility of trusts to ensure junior doctors have a 30-minute break for every four hours they work.
Dr Hallett is seeking declarations to ensure junior doctors are properly monitored and given breaks according to their contracts.
Dr Philip Howard, president of the Catholic Medical Association UK (CMA-UK), said the law must be clarified in relation to the contractual obligations of employers and the working lives of junior doctors in order to ensure patient safety.
Dr Howard recalled a case in which a paediatrician was struck off following the death of a boy. The General Medical Council (GMC) succeeded in getting Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba erased from the medical register after taking the case to the High Court last month.
Dr Bawa-Garba was found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter over the death of six-year-old Jack Adcock, after he developed sepsis in 2011. She received a suspended jail sentence in 2015.
“The Bawa-Garba case illustrates the conditions under which junior doctors are now working and the risks of sanction including gross negligence manslaughter when things go wrong and a patient dies,” Dr Howard said.
Following the Bawa-Garba case doctors pointed out that many of the issues raised – such as dangerous levels of understaffing, failure of IT systems, and staff being forced to work in inappropriate conditions – have been ignored. They argued that rather than highlighting any of these issues, the GMC transferred the blame to one medic. “In the NHS there is increasing pressure and declining morale amongst staff,” said Dr Howard. “It is a fundamental duty of those who employ doctors and nurses to ensure adequate working conditions and rest periods.”
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Picture: A hospital ward. (Peter Byrne/PA).