Doctors 'ready for talks at any time' amid warnings over fresh strikes


Doctors are ready for fresh talks to prevent further strikes "at any time", the British Medical Association said amid warnings that escalated industrial action could put patients' lives at risk.

Junior doctors are returning to work after a 24-hour walkout which led to the cancellation of around 4,000 operations and was condemned as "wholly unnecessary" by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Two further strikes are planned - the second of which would involve a refusal to take part in emergency care - but talks are expected to resume in an effort to break the stalemate.

BMA council chairman Dr Mark Porter said: "We are prepared to speak with Government at any time to try to resolve this on behalf of junior doctors, of course we are," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"But it is not just one remaining issue. There are some serious issues about patient safety and recognition of junior doctors' contributions that need to be sorted here and the very fact that Government documents refuse to acknowledge those issues is one of the things that makes the dispute more difficult to resolve."

If no resolution is found, there will be a 48-hour stoppage and the provision of emergency care only from 8am on January 26. On February 10 there will be a full withdrawal of labour from 8am to 5pm.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said patients' lives would be at risk if the full withdrawal went ahead.

Asked if he could say that no-one would die as a direct result, he told Today: "I do not think we can give that guarantee at this point. Clearly everyone in the NHS will do everything they can to ensure that the right quality of the service is provided."

He said: "We just need everybody to get back around the table and resolve this. Disputes like this, to be honest, have happened over the last five or 10 years as contracts have been updated to reflect the need to provide 24-hour services, seven days a week.

"This is something that every other bit of the economy has done. The time has come for the NHS to do it so let's get back round the table and agree."

Asked if lives could be put at risk, Dr Porter said: "I can't answer the question on the probability of what will happen. What I can say is that the NHS is very good at putting emergency planning in place and dealing with emergencies like this.

"The NHS faces pressures similar to this every day."

Yesterday, some junior doctors in the West Midlands refused to go back to work despite an order from their NHS trust when Sandwell General Hospital in West Bromwich declared a "level 4" major incident.

NHS England said 39% of junior doctors out of a possible 26,000 reported for work on Tuesday, including urgent and emergency care doctors who were asked not to strike by the BMA.

The long-running dispute centres on changes to medics' pay and working conditions and the basis for the current round of negotiations is the Government's offer from early November, including an 11% rise in basic pay.

But this is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend for which junior doctors can claim extra pay for unsocial hours.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, said junior doctors' views of the situation were being "skewed" by "misinformation" about the dispute on social media.

"There is a huge amount of misinformation out there at the moment. Therefore their view of what the issues are has been skewed by social media and other things that they have read," he told Today.

"Clearly NHS employers and the Government have a different view and I think the sooner we can get to a position where there is one version of the truth and really understand those areas where there continues to be disagreement and to find a resolution to those issues...

"Whilst that misinformation exists then it is difficult to have conversations with the juniors in the absence of the truth."

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