Mr Hunt told the BBC the government would not rule out conciliation talks ‘at some stage’, but that the current proposal had already been through the independent pay review process and the BMA must come back to negotiations first.
‘We are happy to look at that possibility at a later stage,' he said. When asked ‘why not now?’, by BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, he said: ‘Because we have some independent proposals. You can’t keep going back.’ The right thing now, he said, was to discuss the independent pay review body’s proposals.
The health secretary said the overwhelming support for strike action by juniors was the result of a ‘campaign of misinformation’ by the BMA.
Junior doctor strikes
The 98% vote by junior doctors for strike action was, he said, 'very, very disappointing' but he insisted the government’s contract offer had been ‘misrepresented’.
‘We put forward a very fair offer for doctors, which will see pay go up for three-quarters of junior doctors. We wanted to talk about this to them, but in the end they have chosen to strike so we will have to put in contingency plans,' said Mr Hunt.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander told BBC Radio 5 Live it was ‘deeply irresponsible’ for Mr Hunt to refuse the union’s proposal.
Call for arbitration
Ms Alexander said while nobody wanted to see a strike ‘I can understand why junior doctors feel industrial action is one of the only ways left for them to get their point across.’
Mr Hunt, she said, ‘needs to take responsibility for the fact this is the first time in 40 years that junior doctors have voted to take such significant industrial action’.
Ms Alexander said there was an ‘urgent need’ for independent arbitration.
‘I am hugely concerned to hear Jeremy Hunt is dismissing the suggestion of going to Acas. There are 10 days between now and this industrial action and I think it’s deeply irresponsible to say you don’t want to bring in an independent mediator to try and do everything to find a way of avoiding this industrial action and finding a negotiated settlement,' she said.