Just days ahead of planned strikes by junior doctors, health secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote to the BMA to reverse his decision earlier this month to reject fresh talks through the conciliation service.
The offer has been welcomed by the BMA, but the union's chairman Dr Mark Porter has warned strikes will go ahead unless the government drops its threat to impose a new contract if a negotiated solution is not reached.
Health select committee chairwoman and former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston wrote on Twitter that she was pleased to hear from prime minister David Cameron that the goverment would re-enter talks via Acas.
Pleased to hear from Prime Minister that Govt have agreed to ACAS conciliation. I hope @TheBMA will now suspend strike action— Sarah Wollaston MP (@sarahwollaston) November 25, 2015
Mr Hunt rejected BMA calls to restart talks via the conciliation service earlier this month. The move sparked warnings from the Labour front bench that Mr Hunt was guilty of a 'casual disregard' for patient safety.
But in a letter to BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter on Wednesday, Mr Hunt wrote: 'Whilst I believe that the right thing to do is to return to the negotiating table directly, it is clear that any talks are better than strikes, so in the first instance I am very happy for my officials and NHS Employers to commence those talks using Acas conciliation services.'
Mr Hunt says in the letter that strikes would 'at best disrupt care and at worst cause serious harm to patients', and calls on the BMA to 'think again' about taking 'extreme' strike action during the busy winter period for the NHS.
Changes to consultant and junior doctor contracts aim to reduce 'unacceptable variation in weekend mortality rates' the health secretary writes. 'My strong preference is to get round the table and agree with the BMA how we do so in a way that you consider fair,' the letter adds.
NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: 'Employers across the NHS will welcome a return to discussions with the BMA, working with ACAS conciliation services. I remain hopeful that through our joint endeavours we can end this dispute, and modernise the contracts for doctors whilst also addressing their concerns.'
Photo: Pete Hill