Industrial action over junior contracts suspended
1 December 2015
Industrial action by junior doctors has been suspended after the BMA reached an agreement with the Government to re-enter genuine negotiations.
The action, which was due to begin on Tuesday this week, has been averted following conciliatory talks with the BMA, NHS Employers and the Department of Health.
All action planned for December is also suspended while negotiations take place — and the imposition of a new contract is put on hold.
Junior doctors in England were set to provide emergency care only for 24 hours from 8am on 1 December over the Government’s decision to impose a new contract on trainees.
However, following conciliatory talks via Acas, the Government responded to the BMA’s demand that the threat of imposition be dropped.
NHS Employers has also agreed to extend the timeframe for the BMA to commence any industrial action by four weeks to 5pm on 13 January to allow negotiations to progress.
BMA junior doctors committee chair Johann Malawana (pictured right) said: ‘Over recent weeks, we’ve seen an outpouring of anger and frustration from junior doctors across the country.
‘We have always been clear that junior doctors want to reach a negotiated agreement with the Government on a contract which is safe for patients, fair for doctors and good for the NHS.
'We have received assurances that we sought, particularly around the safety of current and future junior doctors and therefore the patients they care for.
'It is positive that the concerns of junior doctors have now been listened to, so that all sides can return to the negotiating table.’
In an email to members, BMA council chair Mark Porter wrote: ‘[The] decision is in the best interests of patients, doctors and the NHS.
'It is unfortunate that we have not been able to reach agreement sooner but patients, doctors and everyone else who works across the NHS will be pleased that in the end the right decision has been made.
‘A return to genuine negotiations is clearly preferable to the imposition of a new contract or industrial action and provides us with the best opportunity to deliver a contract for junior doctors, which recognises the central role they play in delivering patient care across the NHS.’
In January, all parties involved in the negotiations will decide whether meaningful progress is being made.
Dr Porter added: ‘At that point, we will need to consider whether industrial action should be reinstated.
‘The coming weeks will be challenging, but it is vital that we do all we can to come to a negotiated agreement. I know that you will continue to support us in this, as you have over the past few months. We are one profession. We stand together.’
An Acas spokesperson praised the ‘constructive manner’ in which the five days of talks were conducted between the BMA, NHS Employers and the Department of Health.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed a return to negotiations.
In a statement to the Commons, he said: ‘This agreement would allow a time-limited period during which negotiations can take place, and during which the BMA agrees to suspend strike action and the Government agrees not to proceed unilaterally with implementing a new contract.’
However, he said there was no permanent commitment to removing imposition.
Shadow health secretary, Heidi Alexander, said the health secretary’s ‘handling of these negotiations has been a lesson in precisely how not to do it’ and she trusted that ‘today’s announcement will mark a change in tone and approach on the part of the Government'.