NHS Employers urges BMA to call off strikes as unions support junior doctor action

NHS Employers urged the BMA to return to talks and call off industrial action after 98% of junior doctors voted for strikes over contract changes, but union leaders backed plans for action.

Dr Ron Singer: Unite/MPU chairman voices support for junior doctor strikes

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said the ballot result was ‘disappointing’ and would result in thousands of patients being concerned about disruption.

The BMA said earlier on Thursday that a ballot of more than 37,000 junior doctors returned a 99% vote for action short of a strike, with 98% voting for strikes.

Last week the BMA announced that action would see a walkout with emergency cover on 1 December, followed by two full walkouts on 8 December and 16 December from 8am to 5pm.

Junior doctor strikes

Mr Mortimer said: ‘NHS organisations are now working hard to keep disruption to a minimum but it is inevitable that appointments will be postponed, surgery rearranged and clinics closed.

‘By taking the unprecedented step of not providing emergency cover for two of their days of action, the BMA are putting the NHS and their colleagues under even greater strain during one of its busiest periods impacting even further on our ability to provide safe and effective care for our patients.

He added: ‘Even at this late stage, we call for the BMA to return to talks. The new contract offers increases in basic pay, concrete safeguards on working hours and pay protection to ensure that doctors won't lose out. I think the public will question why the BMA are causing such significant disruption when the offer of talks remains open.’

Meanwhile, the Unite union’s doctors section, the Medical Practitioners’ Union (MPU), which represents GPs, pledged its support to juniors and said the government’s failure to ‘come to their senses’ had led to the first strike action by them for 40 years.

NHS workforce undervalued

MPU chairman and former GPC member Dr Ron Singer: ‘The overwhelming vote of junior doctors to take strike action is a failure of the government’s treatment of another part of the NHS workforce which it fails to value.

‘This strike represents a failure by government to accept that its proposals and decision to impose them are counter to safe medical practice, as well as to safe working practice. 

‘The last time junior doctors were driven to take drastic action was 1975, so doctors do not take such decisions lightly nor without due cause.

‘The situation is serious. The government should never have allowed the situation to develop as it has.  The government’s instructions to NHS Employers were narrow and short sighted leaving little, if any, room for meaningful negotiations.

‘Refusing to negotiate in good faith led the juniors to walk away. On offer was a contract that was unsafe for patients and unfair to the doctors.

‘We will enlist support from other NHS members of Unite and other unions to offer their help within the law to work locally with BMA reps.

‘We will exert whatever pressure we can to bring the government to its senses – drop the threat of imposition; open all aspects of the proposed contract to serious negotiation and thereby bring a swift end to this dispute.’

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