Suspension of junior doctors' strike action welcomed by Department of Health


The BMA has suspended industrial action by junior doctors in England after concerns about patient safety.

News of the suspension was welcomed by the Department of Health, which urged the BMA to call off industrial action permanently in the interests of patients. 

The strikes had been scheduled for October 5, 6, 7, 10 and 11, November 14 to 18 and December 5 to 9.

The Government and BMA remain at loggerheads over the new contract for junior doctors, which the Department of Health says will help to provide a seven-day NHS.

Six strikes have already taken place across England during the lengthy dispute, causing disruption to hundreds of thousands of patients who have had appointments and operations cancelled.

Dr Ellen McCourt, chair of the BMA junior doctors committee, said the decision had been taken "in light of feedback from doctors, patients and the public, and following a passionate, thoughtful and wide-ranging debate amongst junior doctors".

She vowed "our fight does not end here" adding: "We still oppose the imposition of the contract and are now planning a range of other actions in order to resist it, but patient safety is doctors' primary concern and so it is right that we listen and respond to concerns about the ability of the NHS to maintain a safe service.

"We hope the Government will seize this opportunity to engage with junior doctors and listen to the range of voices from across the NHS raising concerns about doctors' working lives and the impact of the contract on patient care."

Dr McCourt said the dispute hinged on how the NHS will assure quality care over seven days.

She said there is a need for "an open and honest debate led by the BMA" on this and hoped that all interested parties - including medical and healthcare professionals, the Government and patient groups - would work with junior doctors to try and make it happen.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We welcome the news that strikes have been suspended, and commend the leadership of Dr McCourt. The best way to rebuild trust now is for industrial action to be called off permanently in the interests of patients - and we urge the BMA to do so."

Former health secretary Lord Lansley had blasted the planned action by trainee medics as "unethical", described the BMA's actions as "nakedly political" and condemned personal attacks on current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Earlier this week, he said: "The junior doctors' dispute ... it is in my view unethical to potentially inflict harm to patients in pursuit of what is a self-interested campaign."

A first wave of strikes was supposed to start on September 12 but the union called off the first round of industrial action amid safety concerns.

In May, it looked as though a breakthrough had been reached in the dispute after both sides agreed to a new deal.

Then in July, the Government announced that it would impose a new contract after junior doctors and medical students voted to reject the deal brokered between health leaders and the BMA.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: "The BMA's abandonment of the planned five day strikes in October, November and December will be welcomed by employers across the English NHS, as well as by the public.

"I again ask the BMA to commit to work with us to oversee and review the implementation of the new contract."

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of The Patients Association, said: "We are delighted that the BMA have listened to the fears of patients and the public and called off the planned industrial action.

"It will be a huge relief to thousands of patients who have been worrying about when their surgery or hospital appointment would be re-arranged, in light of the strikes announced last month."

She added: "I hope that the Department of Health show willingness to meet with the BMA and do what they can to address doctors' working conditions and respond to their concerns around patient safety."

Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "The country can be proud of the junior doctors' mature, compassionate and principled determination during this damaging dispute."