Junior doctors call off strike threat to allow for talks with government to continue

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt

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STRIKE action by thousands of junior doctors has been suspended so talks can continue, the government and the British Medical Association have announced.

All three strikes planned by the BMA - including a walkout tomorrow - have been suspended in order to return negotiations.

In return, the government has agreed to suspend its threat to impose a new contract on doctors.

If the fresh round of talks break down, the BMA still has the right to hold its strikes before a deadline of January 13.

Walkouts were expected at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth.

A spokesman for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), which has been hosting the talks, said: ‘Following five days of productive talks under the auspices of Acas, the BMA, NHS Employers and the Department of Health have reached an agreement.

‘Acas is pleased that the talks have been held in a constructive manner and co-operative spirit between the parties that will allow an improvement in industrial relations.’

A statement from all parties, released through Acas, said: ‘We intend to reach a collaborative agreement, working in partnership to produce a new contract for junior doctors, recognising their central role in patient care and the future of the NHS.

‘All parties are committed to reaching an agreement that improves safety for patients and doctors and therefore NHS Employers have agreed to extend the time frame for the BMA to commence any industrial action by four weeks to January 13, 2016 at 5pm, to allow negotiations to progress.

‘Within that timetable, the BMA agrees to temporarily suspend its proposed strike action and the Department of Health agrees similarly to temporarily suspend implementation of a contract without agreement.

‘All parties acknowledge that they share responsibility for the safety of patients and junior doctors, which must be paramount.’

In a memorandum of understanding, the groups agreed there was a need to ‘improve access to seven-day services’ in the NHS.

‘The parties recognise that junior doctors currently make a significant contribution across seven days, that urgent and emergency care is the priority for such services and that any new contract would support these aims,’ it said.

Earlier, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs in the Commons that the government would still move to impose the contract on doctors if negotiations did not prove fruitful.

Doctors were poised to take action on three days, providing emergency care only for 24 hours from 8am tomorrow followed by full walkouts from 8am to 5pm on December 8 and 16.

The action would cause mass disruption to the NHS, with hospitals forced to cancel outpatient clinics and non-urgent operations.

NHS England estimates suggest that more than 4,000 operations and procedures have already been scrapped tomorrow.

The basis for fresh negotiations is the government’s offer from early November, including an 11 per cent rise in basic pay for junior doctors.

This is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend that junior doctors can claim extra pay for ‘unsocial’ hours.