Junior doctors to decide on return to contract talks

Junior doctors to decide on return to contract talks

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Health secretary Jeremy Hunt says he wants assurances by end of Saturday that union will negotiate constructively

Junior doctors striking outside North Middlesex hospital in London last month.

Junior doctors striking outside North Middlesex hospital in London last month.
Photograph: Dinendra Haria/Rex/Shutterstock

Saturday 7 May 2016 10.17 BST

Last modified on Saturday 7 May 2016 12.00 BST

Junior doctors are set to decide whether to restart contract talks with the government after a softening by Jeremy Hunt on the imposition of new conditions.

The British Medical Association (BMA) confirmed its junior doctors committee (JDC) would convene after the Department of Health agreed to hear medics’ concerns.

The health secretary said on Thursday that he wanted written agreement from the committee that discussions over the contentious issue of unsocial hours and Saturday pay would be held in good faith.

Hunt said he was seeking assurances by the end of Saturday that the union would negotiate “constructively” on the issue.

The BMA agreed to temporarily suspend planned industrial action in an attempt to find a compromise with ministers.

Related: Fewer people die in hospital at weekends, study finds

It follows a series of strikes held by junior doctors, which saw thousands of operations cancelled after negotiations reached an impasse.

During an interview with Sky News on Thursday, Hunt said: “I hope the BMA will take up the offer to talk constructively and we’re seeking assurances by close of the day on Saturday that the BMA will negotiate constructively on the outstanding issues.”

In a letter to the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges chairwoman, Prof Dame Sue Bailey, Hunt said the discussions should focus on outstanding concerns, not the 90% of issues already agreed.

Junior doctors stopped providing emergency care for the first time in NHS history during their most recent walkout, which took place on two days last week. 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.

The JDC chairman, Dr Johann Malawana, said the committee was keen to restart talks with an “open mind”.

A BMA spokeswoman said: “Junior doctors have said since the outset that they want to reach a negotiated agreement, and have repeatedly urged the government to re-enter talks.

“It is critical to find a way forward on all the outstanding issues – which are more than just pay – and we hope that a new offer is made that can break the impasse.”

The dispute began when the government took steps to introduce its manifesto commitment to a “seven-day NHS”. Hunt wants to change what constitutes “unsocial” hours for which junior doctors can claim extra pay.

Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay for junior doctors. Under Hunt’s proposal, Saturday from 7am to 5pm would become normal working hours, as would the period between 7pm and 10pm on weekdays. Despite the government offsetting this change with a 13.5% hike in basic pay, the BMA has said it will still result in an overall pay cut for most junior doctors.