Junior doctors strike – Jeremy Hunt urges BMA to resume negotiations

Junior Doctors

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has urged the British Medical Association to return to negotiations relating to junior doctors’ contracts following the first day of a planned spate of industrial action.

NHS England has confirmed that around 10,000 junior doctors reported for duty yesterday, of the 26,000 who were scheduled to work the day shift, and around 3,300 routine operations were cancelled as a result of the strike. 

Disruption “regret”

BMA junior doctors’ committee chair Dr Johann Malawana says: "We deeply regret the level of disruption caused, but this is a fight for the long-term safety of patients and junior doctors' working lives." He adds that the action sends a “clear message” to the government.

Jeremy Hunt said the number of doctors who still reported for duty despite the strike demonstrated "the values of the vast majority of junior doctors". He says: "We have some disagreements with the BMA over pay. But we all want to promise every patient who uses the NHS the promise of the same high-quality care every day of the week." 

“Pulling out all the stops”

Anne Rainsberry, NHS England director responsible for overseeing preparations in advance of the strike, issued an apology to all patients who had been affected. She says the health service had been “pulling out all the stops” to provide cover during the strike, and says many senior doctors and nurses stepped up to help provide cover. She adds: "NHS trusts are now working hard to reschedule cancelled tests, appointments and operations as soon as is possible."

“Shambolic” approach

Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander describes the government's approach to the strike as "utterly shambolic". She adds: "Nobody wanted to see industrial action least of all the junior doctors, but we understand why they feel they have no other option.”

The industrial action, the result of a dispute which has been ongoing since last summer, is the result of the latest breakdown in negotiations between trade union the BMA and the Department of Health over proposed changes to junior doctors’ contractual arrangements.

Surgeons

Thousands of doctors and other supporting NHS staff have taken to the streets in protest in recent months over the proposed changes, which are expected to come into force in August 2016 and are likely to include a change to the classification of 'normal' working hours, currently set between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday. Normal working hours are expected to be expanded to between 7am and 10pm Monday to Saturday, which means additional pay for working longer, unsociable hours will be lost - amounting to a hefty pay cut for many junior doctors.

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. 

Yesterday’s strike was the first of a series of planned action, the next is a 48-hour strike on January 26, followed by an all-out strike – when even emergency department cover will not be provided – on February 10. Negotiations are expected to resume later this week.


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