Hospitals prepare for junior doctors' strike as efforts to break stalemate fail


Hospitals across England are finalising plans for dealing with the first all-out strike by junior doctors in the history of the NHS as last-ditch efforts failed to break the stalemate over a new contract.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has defended the two-day walkout, which begins at 8am on Tuesday, repeating its stance that it will call off the strike if Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt agrees to lift his threat to impose the contract.

Mr Hunt has rejected this offer but wrote to the head of the BMA, Dr Mark Porter, over the weekend calling for an urgent meeting on Monday to discuss some parts of the deal.

He said lives were being put at risk and the "extreme action" was "deeply worrying for patients".

The impasse means it looks increasingly likely the strike will go ahead, with thousands of junior doctors withdrawing full labour, including emergency care, from 8am to 5pm on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Dr Porter told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that senior doctors were stepping in to provide emergency care. He also said the Government had "distorted" statistics, which Mr Hunt says shows patients are more likely to die if they are admitted to hospitals at weekends.

A key issue in the dispute is around weekend pay. The new, imposed contract cuts the pay offered to doctors at weekends but increases basic pay.

Asked if he would walk out, Dr Porter said: "I would look at a Government that has distorted the research and statistics to buttress its non-existent case on this, I would look at a Government that has refused to listen to royal college advice and indeed ignored public opinion on this and I would look around and see the senior doctors who are my colleagues in providing safe care. Of course I would."

He added: "I would also look at a Government that has given junior doctors no choice other than this."

Responding to Mr Hunt's "lives at risk" claim, he said: "The Health Secretary is trying to find some way to throw mud at the junior doctors of this country who have been providing weekend and night emergency cover since the NHS started."

Dr Porter added: "The reality is we have advised our members to take part in contingency planning and the NHS has put in place a magnificent effort of contingency planning to make sure that safe emergency care will be delivered on Tuesday and Wednesday. It will be delivered by consultants and staff and associate specialty doctors.

"If the Government will call off the imposition, we will call off the strikes. By contrast, the Government has said over the weekend that there is nothing that will get it to call off the imposition."

During the walkouts, junior doctors will refuse to work in emergency care, including A&E, maternity services, emergency surgery and intensive care.

Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), told the Today programme the dispute was now a "lose-lose" situation.

She said: "It just shows how sorry a state we are at, at the moment. I didn't ever think we would get to this stage. The current dispute has got to a lose-lose situation."

She added: "We are in uncharted territory so it is difficult to know what is going to happen."

On Saturday, a coalition of MPs including Labour shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander urged Mr Hunt to test the new work contract in a small number of trusts rather than impose it across England without the support of the BMA.

However, the Health Secretary insisted that the Government was already planning to roll out the contract slowly and dismissed the proposal as Labour "opportunism".

In his letter to Dr Porter, he said: "I strongly urge you to reconsider whether the action being taken is proportionate or appropriate."