East Sussex junior doctors build up £14,000 fund from fines

Changes to junior doctors' contracts were made in 2016  (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Changes to junior doctors' contracts were made in 2016 (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Junior doctors working in East Sussex have built up a fund of more than £14,000 as a result of fines for contract breaches. 

The matter was raised at a meeting of the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (ESHT) board on Tuesday (October 1), as board members discussed a report from the trust’s Guardian of Safe Working Hours.

Introduced as part of the controversial junior doctors contract in 2016, the Guardian of Safe Working Hours can issue fines to individual hospital departments when juniors doctors’ working hours and conditions breach their contract.  

The money raised by the fine is split between the individual doctor – who will receive a portion of additional pay – and a fund held by the guardian to improve the training and working experience of all junior doctors. 

For a fine to be issued, the contract breach must be raised by the junior doctor themselves in a process known as “exception reporting.”

Introducing the report, ESHT medical director Dr David Walker confirmed that the trust’s guardian was sitting on a fund of more than £14,000.

Dr Walker said: “The main problem with exception reports continues to be in medicine, where there is relative understaffing.

“Those issues are being addressed and some extra appointments are being made, which will also alleviate the stresses on the night time rotas.

“There hasn’t been any decisions from the junior doctors on how to spend the money that has accumulated in fines and currently that stands at just over £14,000.”

Dr Walker said he did not believe there was any stigma to reporting contract breaches within ESHT, but said some junior doctors were more engaged with the process than others.

He added that attendance at forums to decide how the money is spent had been low. 

He said: “Some of the new doctors think the junior doctor contract was very badly negotiated and this whole business of guardians and safe working hours and exception reporting is a bit ridiculous. They don’t engage.

“Others are quite active and for short periods of time will exception report all of the time. So there is a real range of views amongst the junior doctors. 

“There is still general unhappiness with the junior doctors contract, but they are sort of resigned to it.”

Dr Walker also said the trust generally saw an increase in exception reports when new junior doctors joined the trust but numbers dwindled as they settled into their roles.

The trust had also issued guidance to consultants warning them not to discourage junior doctors from making exception reports, he said.

According to a news letter from ESHT’s Guardian of Safe Working Hours, the balance of its penalties fund stood at £16,548 in June 2019.