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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Junior doctors: Bindmans serve letter before action on health secretary

Junior doctors: Bindmans serve letter before action on health secretary


Judicial review argues that Jeremy Hunt has no legal power to impose new contracts on NHS staff

The secretary of state for health, Jeremy Hunt MP, has today been served with a letter before action challenging his decision to impose a new contract on doctors.

The #JustHealth campaign, organised by a group of NHS staff and patients, has raised a staggering £100,000 was in just four days through the CrowdJustice website, setting a new record. Almost 4,000 people have donated to the cause to date.

Lawyers at Bindsmans, headed by partner and joint head of the firm's public law team, Saimo Chahal QC (Hon), were instructed by the group in March to investigate a judicial review into the government's decision.

In an exclusive interview published today, Chahal explains the importance of crowdfunding this the case and why there are 'particular concerns over the legality of the "decision" and the secretary of state's powers and whether he can indeed impose the contract'.

The legal challenge argues that the health secretary has no legal power to impose the new contract on the majority of junior doctors.

Furthermore, the medics argue that while Hunt could, in theory, impose the contract on the group working for NHS Trusts, a small proportion of the workforce, he can only do so after consulting with relevant parties, which he has not done.

Finally, it is contended that the so-called 'decision' to impose the contract is 'legally flawed, unreasonable, and not rational' and will ultimately not achieve the desired effect.

Government lawyers have been given seven days to explain the actions of the secretary of state and the law he relied upon when making 'misleading statements to parliament and the British public'.

This is the second judicial review the government now faces regarding the on the junior doctors contracts. Last week, the British Medical Association (BMA) launched its judicial review to challenge whether the government acted lawfully on equality grounds. The Just Health action, by contrast, challenges the legality of the Hunt's decision to impose the contract itself.

Dr Francesca Silman from Just Health said: 'We hope this legal challenge will hold the government to account, for imposing a contract that threatens the future stability of the NHS.'

Hunt has argued that changes to contracts are essential to deliver a seven-day NHS, which he says will improve patient care and tackle higher death rates among weekend admissions. However, the 'facts and figures' presented by the Conservative minister have 'no basis in reality', NHS staff have countered.

The Just Health campaign believes the contract is unsafe for patients and doctors, and is at odds with frontline staff priorities of patient care and workforce sustainability. It claims that the 'toxic' contract could lead to tired doctors and an increase in mistakes being made as understaffed teams are stretched even thinner.

Further strikes have been announced. Some 98 per cent of doctors who voted for industrial action believe the new contract is unsafe for patients and unsustainable for the NHS, given the backdrop of a chronically underfunded system.

Dr Marie-Estella McVeigh from Just Health said: 'We feel this contract imposition has been rushed through without appropriate consideration and due process.

'There is no evidence that it will deliver a safer system or better quality care for our patients, it will instead exacerbate the staffing crisis we are already struggling with across the NHS.

From left to right in picture: Dr Nadia Masood, Dr Marie-Estella McVeigh, Dr Francesca Silman, and Dr Ben White. Images credited to Alexander Christie.