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Lift imposition and we’ll call off next week’s strike, junior doctors tell Hunt

Not unless you are prepared to discuss Saturday pay, responds health secretary

Caroline White

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The BMA has written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, promising to call off next week’s planned strike, if he agrees to abandon plans to impose the disputed junior doctors’ contract.

Junior doctors plan to stage a full walk-out, withdrawing all labour between the hours of 8am and 5pm, with the exception of emergency care of children, on Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 April, if Mr Hunt ignores the BMA’s offer.

But the health secretary has refused to take any further action unless the BMA signals its willingness to discuss Saturday pay, the last remaining area of dispute between the doctors’ union and the government.

In the letter sent to Mr Hunt yesterday, Dr Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctor committee chair, insisted that the resolution to the long running and acrimonious dispute lay firmly in his hands.

“The imposition of this contract is tremendously damaging to the morale of junior doctors and medical students and has resulted in a complete breakdown of trust between doctors and the Government,” he wrote.  

“It is this decision which has led to the current, lamentable situation, the resolution to which is now squarely in your hands.”

He continued: “Junior doctors who I meet up and down the country are saying that they will not accept a contract being forced on them, a contract which the Government’s own equality impact assessment acknowledges to be discriminatory to women.”

The health secretary’s decision to give up on negotiations in February and impose the contract represented a “a watershed in relations with the profession,” he wrote, but offered to meet with Mr Hunt to discuss the issues before next week’s strike.

“This is a clear offer in a bid to avert industrial action. Simply put, if the government agrees to lift the imposition, junior doctors will call of next week’s strike,” commented Dr Malawana.

“The government cannot continue to stick its head in the sand. It must now listen to the many voices raising concerns about its mishandled plans and do what it has refused to for far too long: put patients first, get back around the table and end this dispute through talks,” he said.

But in reply, the health secretary refuted the BMA’s suggestion that the contract was discriminatory and emphasised that the only remaining area of dispute was Saturday pay, on which, he said, the BMA “refused to countenance any compromise, reneging on the written commitment to discuss this signed at ACAS talks in November.”

He insisted that the government was “always prepared to negotiate on this issue, and made a number of concessions, moving from unsocial hours covering all day on Saturday, to extending these to 7pm on Saturday; then to 5pm; and finally offering that anyone working regular weekends would receive a premium rate for the entirety of Saturday.”

And he made it clear that without a willingness to discuss Saturday pay, contract imposition would go ahead.

“Given your previous positions and our understanding of the outstanding issues, it is simply not credible to call for further contractual talks or offer to suspend industrial action whilst still refusing to discuss Saturday pay,” he wrote.

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