The health secretary wrote to BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter on Saturday urging him to call off the junior doctor strikes – which include the withdrawal of emergency care – scheduled to begin this Tuesday.
In an offer to re-enter negotiations – but not put a halt to the looming contract imposition – he called on the BMA to discuss how the new contract could be implemented ‘in a way that is effective at reducing the maximum hours junior doctors can be asked to work’.
In response, Dr Porter said the BMA would not call off strikes or return to the negotiating table with ‘the threat of imposition hanging over our junior doctors’ heads’.
He added: ‘If you agree to lift imposition while talks resume, we will immediately call off the industrial action.’
Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander, former Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb, former Conservative health minister Dr Dan Poulter and SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford called for the proposed contract to be piloted to test in several trust areas within the UK to test its impact on staff, patients and the so-called 'weekend effect'.
Junior doctor strikes
Mr Hunt said last week it is ‘not now possible to change or delay the introduction of this contract’ without creating ‘unacceptable disruption’ for the NHS, casting doubt on talks resuming.
The proposed strikes will run from 8am to 5pm on Tuesday 26 and again on Wednesday 27 April, the first full walk-outs staged by the BMA. Other doctors will be available to provide standard and emergency care.
In his letter to Dr Porter, Mr Hunt said: ‘The new contract for juniors is now being introduced following the failure of negotiations earlier this year. Had the BMA not gone back on its word to negotiate on the principal outstanding issue – Saturday pay – we would have an agreed contract by now and imposition would have been avoided.
‘It is a highly regrettable outcome that none of us would have wished. However whilst we will now be proceeding with the new contracts, that does not mean that we cannot rebuild trust with further talks on a range of issues that can improve the terms and conditions for junior doctors.
‘The extreme action planned will be deeply worrying for patients, and place enormous additional strain on our NHS at a time of intense pressure. I therefore appeal to you one final time to call off strike action that will see doctors withdraw potentially life-saving care, and to meet with me on Monday to discuss a better way forward.’
Imposed junior doctor contract
In his response to Mr Hunt, Dr Porter said: ‘We have been pushing for further talks on the junior doctor contract ever since your announcement of imposition in February.
‘While we remain committed to reaching a negotiated settlement, this cannot take place with the threat of imposition hanging over our junior doctors’ heads. They have consistently made clear that this would be unacceptable, hence our clear offer to you last week.
‘I am now repeating this offer as a way to break the current impasse: if you agree to lift imposition while talks resume, we will immediately call off the industrial action planned for 26th and 27th April.
‘For the sake of clarity, we must, once again, reject your assertion that the only outstanding issue in dispute relates to Saturday pay.
‘Your own letter recognises a number of critical issues concerning work-life balance, excessive working hours, improvements in training and crucially, workforce and funding implications for seven day services.
‘The proposed contract is deficient in failing to address these issues properly, hence our concerns for patient care, the long-term future of the NHS and the recruitment and retention of doctors.’