Hopes of 'real progress' in junior doctors' dispute with fresh talks


Doctors' leaders and the Government will return to the negotiating table on Monday in an effort to break the deadlock over the controversial contract for junior medics.

The British Medical Association will hold fresh talks after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt agreed to a five-day pause in the imposition of the new junior doctors' contract.

The Health Secretary will also face questioning on the Comprehensive Spending Review on health and social care by the Health Select Committee.

Dr Johann Malawana, chairman of the BMA's junior doctors committee, said he hoped "real progress can now be made to ending this dispute".

But he said that any contract - whether agreed or not - should be put to a referendum of junior doctors.

The Department of Health (DoH) will again turn to hospital boss Sir David Dalton to lead the Government's negotiations - someone from whom Dr Malawana has previously welcomed involvement. 

In a statement, the DoH said: "We look forward to the talks starting tomorrow, which will be held under the auspices of Acas - and the Secretary of State will suspend the introduction of the new contract for a five-day period to facilitate this.

"We are very pleased that Sir David Dalton, a highly respected independent NHS leader, will be returning to lead the Government's negotiating team on the small number of outstanding issues that separated both parties in February."

Dr Malawana wrote on Twitter that he would "welcome" working with Sir David again and would "try and find a solution for junior doctors".

He added: "Will be tough week but juniors want talks."

An Acas spokesman said: "After consultations with both parties in recent days, both the BMA and government representatives accepted an invitation from the chair of Acas, Sir Brendan Barber, to take part in five days of intensive talks to seek to resolve outstanding differences in the current junior doctors' dispute."

Mr Hunt said on Thursday that he wanted "written agreement" from the BMA's junior doctors committee that discussions over the contentious issue of unsocial hours and Saturday pay would be held in "good faith".

Dr Malawana said: "The BMA has agreed to re-enter talks with the Government on outstanding issues in this dispute, which include, but are not limited to, unsocial hours.

"Junior doctors' concerns extend far beyond pay, and our principle in talks will be to deliver a fair contract that does not discriminate against women or any other group, one which addresses the recruitment and retention crisis in the NHS and which provides the basis for delivering a world-class health service.

"The BMA will also call for any contract offer - agreed or not - to be put to a referendum of junior doctors, as is usual following a contract negotiation.

"We hope that with both parties back around the negotiating table, real progress can now be made to ending this dispute through talks."

A DoH spokeswoman said: "We welcome the BMA's decision to return to talks, and have always been clear that we want to see a negotiated solution to this dispute that delivers the seven-day NHS we promised the British people in last year's election.

"From Monday we will be looking for resolution on the small number of outstanding issues that separated both parties in February, principally Saturday pay, but also other issues that affect the motivation, recruitment and retention of junior doctors."

The agreement to resume talks follows a wave of industrial action launched by junior doctors in recent months, which saw thousands of operations cancelled after negotiations reached an impasse, with Mr Hunt threatening to impose the controversial contract.

The resumption of negotiations has been brokered by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in an effort to end the dispute.

Mr Hunt has insisted that discussions should not concern 90% of the issues already agreed but should focus instead on outstanding contractual issues.

Junior doctors stopped providing emergency care for the first time in NHS history during their most recent walkout, which went on for two days last week.

More than 125,000 appointments and operations were cancelled and will need to be rearranged, on top of almost 25,000 procedures cancelled during previous action.

The dispute began when the Government took steps to introduce its manifesto commitment of a seven-day NHS.

Mr Hunt wants to change what constitutes "unsocial" hours for which junior doctors can claim extra pay, turning 7am to 5pm on Saturday into a normal working day.

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

Despite the Government offsetting this change with a hike in basic pay of 13.5%, it has proved to be a sticking point with the BMA.

The imposed contract, due to come into force in August, will still allow premium rates for Saturday evenings and all of Sunday.