Confirmation of junior doctors' strike extremely disappointing, says Jeremy Hunt


The Health Secretary has said it is "extremely disappointing" that junior doctors will stage three strikes after talks broke down over a new contract.

Thousands of junior doctors across England will walk out after talks between the British Medical Association (BMA), NHS Employers and Government officials failed to reach an agreement on the issue of weekend pay.

As a result, junior doctors will provide emergency care only from 8am on Tuesday January 12.

This will be followed by two further spells of strike action, with a 48-hour stoppage and the provision of emergency care only from 8am on Tuesday January 26.

On Wednesday February 10, there will be a full withdrawal of labour from 8am to 5pm.

The BMA has agreed to further talks so there is the possibility that the strikes could be averted at the 11th hour.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said agreement had been reached with the BMA on 15 out of 16 issues but that weekend pay remained in dispute.

He said: "Our absolute priority is patient safety and making sure that the NHS delivers high-quality care seven days a week - and we know that's what doctors want too, so it is extremely disappointing that the BMA have chosen to take industrial action which helps no one.

"We had made good progress in talks, resolving 15 of the 16 issues put forward by the union - everything apart from weekend pay.

"We have now asked Acas to reconvene talks in the hope the BMA will return to sensible negotiations."

The basis for the current round of negotiations was 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 for which 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 Government's revised offer, 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 concerns over flexible pay plans for some specialities.

The strikes would lead to disruption for thousands of NHS patients. Suspended strike action in November led to the cancellation of thousands of operations, procedures and appointments.

On Monday, the BMA said the action comes "after the Government's continued failure to address junior doctors' concerns about the need for robust contractual safeguards on safe working, and proper recognition for those working unsocial hours".

Dr Mark Porter, the BMA's chairman, said: "Throughout this process the BMA has been clear that it wants to reach agreement on a contract that is good for patients, junior doctors and the NHS.

"This is why, despite overwhelming support for industrial action, the BMA instead sought conciliation talks with the Government, talks which were initially rejected and delayed by Jeremy Hunt.

"After weeks of further negotiations, it is clear that the Government is still not taking junior doctors' concerns seriously. Furthermore, the Government has repeatedly dragged its feet throughout this process, initially rejecting our offer of talks and failing to make significant movement during negotiations."

Some 98% of junior doctors who voted in the BMA ballot were in favour of strikes, with 2% against.

More than 37,000 doctors were balloted by the BMA, and 76% took part in the November vote.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "It is extremely disappointing that negotiations have failed to break the impasse between the Government and the BMA over proposed contracts for junior doctors. Once again patients are being caught in the middle of this bitter dispute."

She said the charity understood the concerns of junior doctors but added: "The short-term impact that this strike will cause however is very worrying.

"Cancelled operations and reduced access to services will directly affect patients, leaving many at risk. All parties in the dispute must remember that their primary duty is to patients."