Junior doctors strike called off as key clauses set to be thrashed out later this week
The British Medical Association (BMA) has announced that it has suspended the next round of industrial action as talks between the government and the trade union are set to be resumed.
Negotiations relating to what has been described as “key clauses” will continue later this week between key figures at the Department of Health, the BMA and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).
Next week’s junior doctors strike, scheduled to begin on January 26, would have seen emergency-only care provided for a period of 48-hours.
Commenting on the decision to suspend industrial action, BMA junior doctor committee chair, Dr Johann Malawana, says: “The BMA’s aim has always been to deliver a safe, fair junior doctor contract through negotiated agreement. Following junior doctors’ clear message to the Government during last week’s action, our focus is now on building on early progress made in the current set of talks.
Dr Malawana says the announcement has been made ahead of the strike in order to provide Trusts with “as much notice as possible so as to avoid disruption to patients”.
Industrial action earlier this month resulted in around 16,000 junior doctors not reporting for duty on January 12, and NHS England confirmed that 3,300 routine operations and thousands of out-patient appointments were cancelled as a consequence of the 24-hour walk out.
The planned February 10 strike, if it goes ahead, could mean even further disruption for patients in both a routine and in an emergency capacity, since emergency department staff will also be given the option to take part in the walk out.
Dr Malawana stresses the move does not signify that an agreement has been reached. He says: “It is important to be clear, however, that differences still exist between the BMA and the Government on key areas, including the protection of patient safety and doctor’s working lives and the recognition of unsocial hours. Significant, concrete progress will need to be made if future action, currently planned for February 10, is to be averted.”
“Extremely welcome news”
A spokesperson at the Department of Health says: "The strike that took place last week was unnecessary while talks are ongoing, so it's extremely welcome news that the BMA has suspended next week's action.
"In the end, the government and junior doctors want to do the same thing by improving patient care at weekends - and we look forward to further constructive discussions."
Why the dispute?
The dispute, which has been ongoing since last summer, began over proposed changes to junior doctors’ contractual working arrangements.
Thousands of doctors and other supporting NHS staff have taken to the streets in protest in recent months over the proposed changes, which are said to form part of the Department of Health’s aim to implement seven-day NHS services.
Changes to working hours are expected, which means additional pay for working longer, unsociable hours will be lost – potentially amounting to a hefty pay cut for many junior doctors. Doctors say they will be left with no choice but to work even longer hours in order to make up this loss of earnings – resulting in a working environment described as “unsafe” and “unfair” by protestors. They have also expressed concerns that patient safety will also be under threat should the proposed contract be imposed.
According to the BMA, a Year 1 Foundation trainee doctor is currently paid a starting salary of £22,636, significantly less than the UK average salary of £26,000.
Of England’s 55,000 junior doctors, around 37,000 are BMA members, 98% of whom voted in November in favour of full strike action.
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