Government ministers and junior doctors are locked in a dispute that could result in the first junior doctors' strike for 40 years, potentially endangering patients in the run-up to Christmas, says The Guardian. England has around 45,000 junior doctors – a term which can also cover doctors with over a decade of experience – and they make up a third of the medical workforce, says the BBC. The row is over changes to the junior doctors' contract, introduced in the '90s.
The new deal includes an 11% rise in basic pay. But the number of hours classed as "unsociable", and so eligible for extra pay, is being cut by 25%. Guaranteed pay rises linked to longevity of service are being replaced with a system linked to progression through set stages, which the BMA, the doctors' union, argues discriminates against those who take time off to have a baby. The BMA also fears the restrictions on hours worked are not strong enough, which may compromise safety.
The row doesn't cover either side in glory, says The Times. The seven-day NHS, towards which health secretary Jeremy Hunt is working, is "not a luxury, but the least patients deserve". An overhaul of junior doctors' expensive, complex weekend overtime rules is "one of many" unavoidable reforms and "throwing money at the problem is not an option". But while the BMA has been "unremittingly shrill", Hunt has allowed trust between the two sides to "evaporate".
"Both sides should be careful", says Mark Britnell in The Sunday Times. Evidence that patients admitted at the weekend are more likely to die means that scuppering the government's commitment to seven-day working will not be greeted with public sympathy. But while the NHS has a long way to go, it is constrained by the "financial squeeze and looming funding crisis". It's time that both sides started working together to resolve this, as well as other, "far more intractable", problems.