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BMA: Government puts politics before patients

Junior doctors will strike again next week as negotiations flounder over unsocial hours

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 02 February 2016

Junior doctors will begin a 24-hour strike next Wednesday because they have "no alternative" in the face of the Government’s threat to impose on them a fiercely resisted contract, the BMA announced late yesterday. It said it had shortened and modified the strike to minimise disruption to patient care – but NHS leaders argued that negotiators had made significant progress on many issues, and that it was unacceptable for patients bearing the brunt of the dispute.

The BMA claimed that the “Government’s continued refusal to put reason before politics” in negotiations to find a fair solution for a junior doctor workforce that is already overstretched had led those talks to flounder. But it said that – because of early progress made in talks with the Government’s chief negotiator Sir David Dalton – instead of the 48-hour full walk-out by junior doctors that had originally been scheduled for last week, they will now provide emergency care only for a 24-hour period starting at 8am on Wednesday 10 February.

Sir David warned health secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday, in his letter summarising progress so far: “It is very disappointing that the BMA continues to refuse to negotiate on the issue of unsocial hours payment … Should the BMA confirm that they will not negotiate and compromise on weekday and weekend plain time/unsocial hours then I will have to conclude that there is no opportunity for a negotiated settlement.”

Mr Hunt urged BMA Council chair Dr Mark Porter to “continue to reflect on the value of further discussions.”

“In particular, I would welcome your assurance that you are willing to discuss plain time working hours, as set out in the joint agreement with ACAS in November,” Mr Hunt wrote.

Chair of the BMA junior doctors committee Dr Johann Malawana said that good progress had been made on a number of issues, because of Sir David’s “understanding of the realities of a health service buckling under mounting pressures and commitment to reaching a fair agreement”. He said this made it all the more frustrating the Government was still digging in its heels.

He said: “The Government’s entrenched position in refusing to recognise Saturday working as unsocial hours, together with its continued threat to impose a contract so fiercely resisted by junior doctors across England, leaves us with no alternative but to continue with industrial action.” He said he regretted that the Government had shown no willingness to move on this “core issue”, while it misrepresented junior doctors – who already work every day of the week – as a block to a seven-day NHS.

He also pointed out that the public had expressed its support for junior doctors in a recent poll by Ipsos Mori. He said the BMA deeply regretted the disruption that will be caused by industrial action, and that it had changed its form “so as to balance the need to send a clear message to a government putting politics before patients while minimising disruption, with excellent care continuing to be provided by doctors and other NHS staff on the day”.

Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, welcomed the BMA’s decision to scale back industrial action but complained that its decision to go ahead with it “is a bitter blow to people who use the health service”. He went on: “Amidst financial pressures and increasing demand, the NHS cannot afford to continue to suffer as a result of this on-going dispute. It's unacceptable that patients are feeling the greatest impact. Significant progress has been made on many issues between the negotiators. It is critical that all parties commit to talk, compromise and work together to reach a resolution.”

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