Doctors' strike suspension too late for hundreds of cancelled ops


Strike action by thousands of junior doctors has been suspended but the decision came too late for thousands of patients whose operations and appointments had already been cancelled.

A snapshot survey of almost 20 NHS trusts by the Press Association has revealed around 600 operations and procedures planned for Tuesday were cancelled, alongside around 3,500 outpatient appointments. This poll represents less than a fifth of the trusts across England.

A temporary agreement was reached on Monday night between government officials, the British Medical Association (BMA) and NHS Employers, which means three days of strikes planned for December will now no longer go ahead.

The 24-hour walkout planned to start at 8am on Tuesday has been dropped, together with two full strikes organised for December 8 and 16.

While fresh talks are under way, the Government has agreed to suspend its threat to impose a new contract on doctors.

However, it will retain the right to impose it if a final settlement with the BMA cannot be reached.

The BMA also maintains the right to hold its strikes before a deadline of January 13 if talks do break down.

A spokesman for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), which has been hosting the talks, 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.

"Acas is pleased that the talks have been held in a constructive manner and co-operative spirit between the parties, that will allow an improvement in industrial relations."

A statement from all parties said: "We intend to reach a collaborative agreement, working in partnership to produce a new contract for junior doctors, recognising their central role in patient care and the future of the NHS.

"All parties are committed to reaching an agreement that improves safety for patients and doctors and therefore NHS Employers have agreed to extend the time-frame for the BMA to commence any industrial action by four weeks to January 13 2016 at 1700, to allow negotiations to progress.

"Within that timetable, the BMA agrees to temporarily suspend its proposed strike action and the Department of Health agrees similarly to temporarily suspend implementation of a contract without agreement.

"All parties acknowledge that they share responsibility for the safety of patients and junior doctors, which must be paramount."

In a memorandum of understanding, the groups agreed there was a need to "improve access to seven-day services" in the NHS and appeared to be working towards an outline of an agreed contract.

The basis for fresh negotiations is the Government's offer from early November, including an 11% rise in basic pay for junior doctors.

This is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend that junior doctors can claim extra pay for "unsocial" hours.

Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay.

Under the revised plans, a higher rate would run from 10pm to 7am Monday to Friday, and from 7pm on Saturday evenings - a concession on the previous 10pm.

Mr Hunt has argued that, under the new deal, just 1% of doctors would lose pay and those would be limited to doctors working too many hours already.

The BMA has said the increase in basic pay is misleading due to the changes to pay for unsocial hours. It also has other concerns over flexible pay plans for some specialities.

Mr Hunt told MPs that NHS England had estimated that - across all three days of planned action - up to 20,000 patients would have operations cancelled, including around 1,500 cataract operations, 900 skin lesion removals, 630 hip and knee operations, 400 spine operations, 250 gall bladder removals and nearly 300 tonsil and grommets operations.