Doctors back on duty amid fresh pleas to end strikes


Striking doctors will return to work amid new hope that a deal over changes to their contracts can be reached before the next planned walkout.

Thousands of junior doctors walked out for 24 hours, with some even refusing a plea to return to work, while around 4,000 operations had to be cancelled.

British Medical Association (BMA) council chairman Dr Mark Porter said neither side wanted the dispute to go on "indefinitely" and urged the Government to "recognise the strength of feeling" among medics.

Danny Mortimer, the head of NHS Employers, which is representing the Government in negotiations, said he was "desperate" to avoid a repeat of the strike.

But the action was criticised by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who described the strike as "wholly unnecessary" and "very disappointing".

Two further strikes are planned but talks are expected to resume in an effort to break the stalemate.

Dr Porter told the Times the union's members were backing further strikes.

He said: "This is a palpable demonstration that they don't only have these concerns when they're ticking a box on a ballot paper but also when it comes to showing it in industrial action.

"Nobody wants to see this continue indefinitely. I'm calling of the Government to recognise the strength of feeling among doctors.

"We do not need to ballot again to call another episode of industrial action. We regret that this is something that our members will be calling for us to do."

The first strike was due to end at 8am on Wednesday.

There will be a 48-hour stoppage and the provision of emergency care only from 8am on January 26. On February 10 there will be a full withdrawal of labour from 8am to 5pm.

Mr Mortimer told the BBC: "I'm really hopeful that when the BMA return to the talks we can give junior doctors more confidence in both the pay offer that we're putting to them, but also the improved protections we want to put in place around their safety.

"I am desperate to avoid another repeat of industrial action at the end of the month. It's not in their interest and it's not in the interest of patients."

Yesterday, some junior doctors in the West Midlands refused to go back to work despite an order from their NHS trust, Sandwell General Hospital in West Bromwich, which declared a "level 4" major incident.

NHS England said 39% of junior doctors out of a possible 26,000 had reported for work yesterday, including urgent and emergency care doctors who were asked not to strike by the BMA.

The long-running dispute centres on changes to medics' pay and working conditions and the basis for the current round of negotiations is the Government's offer from early November, including an 11% rise in basic pay.

But 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.