Hunt urges junior doctors to call off all-out strike

25 Apr 16

Jeremy Hunt has written to the British Medical Association urging them to call off the junior doctors strike set for tomorrow that will see them refuse to provide emergency treatment for the first time in a dispute over a new contract.

The dispute, over changes to the junior doctor contract intended to improve care at evenings and weekends, has already seen doctors take strike action, although they have continued to provide emergency care.

Following Hunt’s decision to impose the new contract after negotiations with the British Medical Association failed, the dispute has intensified. Action planned for tomorrow and Wednesday would be the first time in the history of the NHS that junior doctors would refuse to provide emergency treatment.

In a letter to BMA chair Dr Mark Porter yesterday, Hunt urged him to reconsider whether the action was appropriate or proportionate.

Hunt wrote: “The extreme action planned will be deeply worrying for patients, and place enormous additional strain on our NHS at a time of intense pressure. I therefore appeal to you one final time to call off strike action that will see doctors withdraw potentially life-saving care, and to meet with me on Monday to discuss a better way forward.”

The letter offers to resume talks on workforce and funding requirements for seven-day services, how training can be improved and measures to improve junior doctors’ work-life balance.

The BMA maintains that doctors would be paid less for working unsocial hours than they are under the current contract, with those working in specialties with a high proportion of weekend and evening working, such as emergency medicine, affected disproportionately.

The union is also concerned that financial penalties faced by NHS providers for overworking doctors would be removed in the new contract.

Also at the weekend, a cross-party grouping of MPs, led by Labour health spokeswoman Heidi Alexander, proposed piloting the new contract to see what its impact would be on junior doctor training. The MPs, who included Conservative Dan Poulter, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb and the SNP’s Philippa Whitford, suggested an “audit” of weekend deaths should also be carried out in a bid to gather more evidence of the so-called “weekend effect” on mortality rates.

It is thought that such a concession would be enough to get the BMA back to the negotiating table.

However, the government dismissed the suggestion, saying the contract was being introduced in a phased way from August to allow any problems to be ironed out.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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