Talks on junior doctors' contracts will continue into next week
The battle between Jeremy Hunt and junior doctors rages on as the two sides have so far failed to agree. Talks over a new contract for junior doctors will continue into next week.
Arbitration service Acas announced that five days of "intensive" talks had been held between the British Medical Association (BMA), Government officials and NHS employers and will resume on Monday for up to three more days.
Chairman of Acas, Sir Brendan Barber, said: "Both parties have committed themselves over the whole of this week to highly intensive negotiations in an effort to resolve this long-running dispute.
"The talks have been conducted in a constructive and positive atmosphere. In my judgement some real progress has been made to address outstanding issues.
"I reached the view, however, in the last 24 hours that a limited amount of additional time would be needed to give the process a chance of reaching a successful conclusion.
"I proposed to the Secretary of State and to the BMA that the talks should be continued up until next Wednesday, and to allow this to happen, that each side should renew the commitments they made for this process to start.
"These were that the Government would suspend any action towards the implementation of the proposed new contract and that the BMA would suspend any decision on further industrial action. I am grateful that both parties have agreed to this proposal."
Sir Brendan said the further talks represented a "strictly time-limited extension" and were a "final opportunity to find an agreement".
The views of NHS Employers and the Government are being represented by Sir David Dalton, who was involved in the original talks and heads up Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, while the BMA is being represented by Dr Johann Malawana.
There are hopes on both sides that a final agreement can be reached that deals with the crucial issue of Saturday pay.
The BMA has said any deal would need to be put before junior doctors in a ballot, though that is expected to take several weeks.
The issue is sure to be debated at this weekend's junior doctors' committee conference, held by the BMA in central London.
Junior doctors stopped providing emergency care for the first time in NHS history during their most recent walkout.
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.
Stephen Dalton, acting chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "We welcome the decision by the Government and the BMA to continue talking in a 'safe space'.
"Our members are supportive of this additional time and the efforts being made with Acas to try and find a swift resolution to this dispute for the benefit of patients and staff."
If the talks fail, the Government has indicated it will push ahead with the imposition of the contract.