The BMA’s ruling council agreed yesterday to sanction five days of nine-hour, all-out strikes by junior doctors beginning 12 September with further dates to be confirmed.
The health secretary, speaking on BBC’s Today condemned the action as ‘devastating’, and the ‘like of which the NHS has never seen before’. Patients, he said, faced the cancellation of 100,000 operations and 1m appointments.
Asked whether he would be prepared to return to negotiations on the detail of the contract, Mr Hunt said ‘we are proceeding with that contract next month’.
Junior doctor contract
Mr Hunt said the government had made 107 concessions on the contract in three years which had been significant enough for the previous BMA junior doctors committee chairman to recommend as a good deal the BMA should support.
Mr Hunt said he was ‘absolutely determined to honour’ the government’s manifesto commitment to introduce a seven-day NHS.
‘I concluded in June,' he added, ‘that the only way to resolve this situation is to proceed with the contract that had been agreed with the BMA, but my door is absolutely open to continue to have dialogue and discussions on all the outstanding issues.’
In July 58% of junior doctors voted to reject a revised contract recommended by the junior doctors committee leadership following renewed negotiations held in May. Doctors believe the new contract, which the government wants to use to enable its seven-day NHS policy, is unsafe and unfair and that it discriminates against women.
The BMA said junior doctors remained concerned about the effect the contract will have on those working less than full time, mostly women, and on those working the most weekends, typically those in shortage specialties.
Junior doctor strikes
The union called for the government to lift the threat of imposition and return to talks to build on progress made in May and reach agreement on a new contract which is adequately funded and has the confidence of the profession.
Junior doctors committee chairwoman Dr Ellen McCourt said: ‘Junior doctors still have serious concerns with the contract, particularly that it will fuel the current workforce crisis, and that it fails to treat all doctors fairly.
‘Since July, the BMA has made repeated attempts to work with the government to address the concerns that junior doctors have raised about the contract. Genuine efforts to resolve the dispute through talks have been met with an unwillingness to engage and, at times, deafening silence from the Secretary of State, leaving junior doctors with no choice but to take further action. This is despite a pledge from Jeremy Hunt that his door is always open.
‘The government has consistently said this is about creating a seven-day NHS, when junior doctors already work weekends and it’s been shown that the government has no answer to how it will staff and fund extra weekend care.
‘With just weeks before the first group of doctors is moved onto the imposed contract, time is running out. This contract will be in place for many years, it will have a direct impact on patient care and whether we can attract and keep enough doctors in the NHS. It is too important to be rushed to meet a political deadline.
‘We have a simple ask of the government: stop the imposition. If it agrees to do this, junior doctors will call off industrial action.
‘This is not a situation junior doctors wanted to find themselves in. We want to resolve this dispute through talks, but in forcing through a contract that junior doctors have rejected and which they don’t believe is good for their patients or themselves, the government has left them with no other choice.’
A DH spokeswoman said: ‘As doctors’ representatives, the BMA should be putting patients first not playing politics in a way that will be immensely damaging for vulnerable patients. What’s more, the BMA must be the first union in history to call for strike action against a deal they themselves negotiated and said was a good one.
'Whilst there are many pressures on the frontline, funding is at record levels, with the highest number of doctors employed in the history of the NHS. Co-operation not confrontation is the way forward to make sure patients get the best treatment and the NHS is there for people whenever they need it.’