Junior doctor strikes could still go ahead in January, BMA warns

Junior doctors' leaders have said they remain prepared to take strike action if negotiations with the government and NHS Employers do not work out, after action was suspended last night.

BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter
BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter

Today’s planned action and two further strikes this month were called off by the BMA on Monday after an eleventh hour deal.

Following talks at the conciliation service Acas, the government agreed temporarily to lift the threat of contract imposition in return for the suspension of industrial action which had been voted for by 98% of junior doctors.

In an email to members BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter said: ‘Today’s decision is in the best interests of patients, doctors and the NHS. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to reach agreement sooner but patients, doctors and everyone else who works across the NHS will be pleased that in the end the right decision has been made.

Junior doctor strikes

‘A return to genuine negotiations is clearly preferable to the imposition of a new contract or industrial action and provides us with the best opportunity to deliver a contract for junior doctors which recognises the central role they play in delivering patient care across the NHS.’

All sides will decide in January whether meaningful progress is being made in negotiations. The timeframe for the BMA to take industrial action has been extended by four weeks to 13 January.

At that point, said Dr Porter, ‘we will need to consider whether industrial action should be reinstated’.

Writing on the junior doctors’ contract group on Facebook, junior doctors committee chairman Dr Johann Malawana said: ‘The last five days I have spent talking to the DH and NHS [Employers] via Acas, trying to get assurance as to a meaningful negotiation. I believe we have the starting point for those negotiations, I have received assurances that I am confident in from the DH and NHSE.

'There is a public-facing document that underpins this, it is written in political language as is necessary in these situations. However the contract negotiations are going to be predicated on more detail that I have. As with all negotiations the process of negotiation will not be public, but the outcome will be voted by all BMA junior doctors.

Contract talks continue

‘Given the mandate, all sides have committed to entering prompt negotiations to prove that the assurances are meaningful. If those negotiations do not turn out to be as stated, there is a reversal of positions, then we will activate our mandate.’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs yesterday: 'I am pleased to report to the house that, after working through the weekend, discussions led to a potential agreement early this afternoon between the BMA leadership and the government. This agreement would allow a time-limited period during which negotiations can take place, and during which the BMA agrees to suspend strike action and the government agrees not to proceed unilaterally with implementing a new contract.'

An Acas spokesperson said: ‘Following five days of productive talks under the auspices of Acas, the BMA, NHS Employers and the Department of Health have reached an agreement, which is attached. Acas is pleased that the talks have been held in a constructive manner and cooperative spirit between the parties, that will allow an improvement in industrial relations.’

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