Talks continue in bid to find solution to junior doctors' dispute


Negotiations between doctor's leaders and the Government have entered a second day as officials bid to break the deadlock over the controversial contract for junior medics.

The British Medical Association (BMA) and Department of Health officials began fresh talks yesterday and continued negotiations into the night.

The talks, held at the conciliation service Acas, began after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt agreed to a five-day pause in the imposition of the new junior doctors' contract.

Around 90% of the contract had previously been agreed, but the main bone of contention was over whether Saturdays should attract extra "unsocial" payments, among other issues.

But 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".

The Department of Health has once again turned to hospital boss Sir David Dalton to lead the Government's negotiations.

Dr Johann Malawana, chairman of the BMA's junior doctors committee has said that any contract - whether agreed or not - should be put to a referendum of junior doctors.

Medics will be convening in London this weekend for the BMA's junior doctor conference.

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 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.

The Government proposed to offset this change with a hike in basic pay of 13.5%, but the BMA rejected these plans.

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