Hunt at loggerheads with BMA over junior doctor talks as strike ballot result nears

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt remains at deadlock with the BMA over junior doctor contract negotiations with just a day to go until results of a ballot on strike action are announced.

Mr Hunt has told MPs and the BMA that there are 'no preconditions' to junior doctor negotiations, but the doctors' union will not return to talks unless the threat of contract imposition is lifted.

In a letter to junior doctors’ committee chairman Dr Johann Malawana, the health secretary appealed for the BMA to ‘come back to the table’ and said there are ‘no preconditions to talks whatsoever’.

Junior doctors’ leaders have demanded the government withdraw the threat of imposition and all preconditions on talks. The BMA has said that Mr Hunt’s acceptance of 22 recommendations made by the DDRB amounted to preconditions.

In his letter, published as a BMA ballot for industrial action closes on Wednesday, Mr Hunt said the 22 recommendations ‘needed to provide the basis for talks’ but that there was further scope for negotiation.

‘It is not unreasonable after three years to need to move forward to a new contract without the threat of a BMA veto,' Mr Hunt added.

Junior doctor strikes

During health questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday former GP and chairwoman of the health select committee Dr Sarah Wollaston said she was ‘deeply concerned about the impact on patient care caused by the proposed three days of industrial action, including two days of a full walkout’, and asked Mr Hunt to confirm there were no preconditions to talks.

Mr Hunt said: ‘I absolutely give my honourable friend that reassurance. There are no preconditions.’

‘Of course,' he added, ‘if we fail to make progress we have to implement our manifesto commitments, but we are willing to talk about absolutely everything. I agree strongly with my honourable friend that it will be difficult to avoid harm to patients during those three days of industrial action.

‘I urge the BMA to listen to the royal colleges—and many others—and call off the strike.’

A BMA spokesman said: ‘The BMA has been clear that we want to get back around the negotiating table. In order to do this the government must remove the threat of imposition and provide the reasonable assurances we need on a contract that is safe and fair, and delivers for patients, junior doctors and the NHS as a whole.’

Photo: Pete Hill

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