Doctors should consult with their hospital’s ethics committee before taking industrial action, Mid Sussex’s MP has suggested.
Prior to a two-day walkout by junior doctors over a contract dispute with the Government starting today (Tuesday April 26), Sir Nicholas Soames argued that postponing operations was never cost-free to patients, and the removal of emergency cover by any doctor for industrial reasons was unlikely to be approved by any medical ethics committee.
On social media site Twitter he asked at what stage junior doctors take the Hippocratic Oath and when one user suggested it they did not strike now there would be more harm in the next few years as acute services collapse from lack of staff, Sir Nicholas replied: “Rubbish.”
In a question to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in the House of Commons last week, he said: “One thing that the whole house can agree on is that the postponement of treatment or operations is never cost-free for patients.
“Every hospital has an ethics committee, so does my right hon. friend agree that all striking doctors should consult their hospital’s ethics committee?
“Does he agree that the removal of emergency cover by any doctor for industrial reasons would be unlikely to meet with the approval of any medical ethic committees?
“Finally, does he agree that it is unacceptable for any doctor to act unethically, and that that would place him or her in serious jeopardy?”
Mr Hunt replied: “My right hon. friend speaks wisely. A whole chorus of senior doctors, from Professor Sir Bruce Keogh to Dame Sally Davies to Lord Darzi, have urged doctors to think hard about the ethics involved.
“My right hon. friend is absolutely right to say that consulting with the ethics committee in the trust is a wise thing to do.
“Doctors might also take note of what the General Medical Council said about it being increasingly difficult to justify the withdrawal of emergency care and about the ethics involved.
“In the end, this is a personal decision for doctors, and it is about whether it is right to withdraw emergency care from patients in an industrial dispute about pay.
“This is a bridge that the NHS has never crossed before. It is a very big decision, not only for the NHS, but for every single doctor inside it.”
The strike will be the first ‘full withdrawal of labour’, taking place from 8am to 5pm today and tomorrow (Wednesday, April 27) – 18 hours in total.
This means junior doctors will not be providing emergency cover as they have done during previous strike action.
Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust, which runs the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, issued advice ahead of the planned strike.
“We are working hard to make sure as few patients as possible are affected by the industrial action,” said a statement.
“Maintaining the safety of our patients is our priority throughout the two days and we have detailed speciality-specific plans in place to ensure disruption to services is kept to a minimum.”
The trust said it would contact patients with planned operations, procedures or outpatient appointments which needed to be rearranged.
Anyone not contacted should assume their appointment is going ahead as planned.
“Accident and emergency departments will be open for patients with serious and life threatening conditions, with essential care being provided by senior staff,” said the trust’s website.
“As is always the case to ensure that we can treat those who most need it, only those patients with serious and life threatening conditions should visit their A&E.”
Earlier this week South East Coast Ambulance Service urged people to ‘think carefully’ about calling 999 during the strike.
“SECAmb is asking the public to, as always, think carefully about calling 999 during this week’s planned period of industrial action by junior doctors,” said a trust spokesman.
“It is difficult to say how substantial the impact will be on our service but we have robust plans in place and will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure that we minimise the impact on patients.
“We will be looking to make best use of our clinicians in our control centres to advise patients, working with our healthcare partners in the community to delay, where appropriate, the transfer of patients to hospital and where possible seek alternative pathways such as minor injuries units as and when necessary.”
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