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Doctors set to for all-out strike as accusations fly

Jeremy Hunt rejects pilot plan as doctors hint at mass resignations

Mark Gould

Monday, 25 April 2016

Junior doctors say they remain committed to embarking on the first ever all-out strikes in the NHS in spite of last minute attempts by senior doctors and MPs to bring the BMA and the government back to the negotiating table.

Hospitals are reported to be asking patients to avoid using A&E where at all possible and are drafting in locum consultant cover in preparation for the latest walkouts on Tuesday and Wednesday when emergency care will be affected for the first time. NHS England has also issued advice for people with long-term conditions and their carers.

Today saw an escalation in the war of words between politicians and doctors with MPs saying that the BMA campaign was politically motivated and aimed at bringing down the Government.

And the BMA chairman, Dr Mark Porter, confirmed that junior doctors were considering possible mass resignations as a way of escalating the dispute. Emails from the association’s junior doctors committee leaked to the Health Service Journal last week outlined possible ways the action could be stepped up, including a permanent walkout, the mass resignation of trainees and a recommendation that doctors seek jobs outside the NHS.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Dr Porter said: “There is a lot of discussion among junior doctors about what steps might be taken if the government fails to respond to the industrial action this week, and no decisions have yet been taken which means they are all possible, but that doesn’t mean they are all likely or are going to happen.”

One of the junior doctors who is seeking a high court challenge against the contract announced his intention to resign live on television. Dr Ben White told ITV’s Good Morning Britain he would be leaving his post to focus on fighting the contract. “I really feel like we have been backed into a corner and there’s not a lot of sense coming out of the government’s side of things," he said.

On Saturday, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt rejected plans in cross-party letter recommending piloting the new contract. In the letter - organised by Labour's shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander - the group of MPs wrote: "You will be aware that medical leaders, royal colleges and patient groups, have said the imposition or unilateral introduction of the contract is the wrong approach and risks permanent damage to the future of the medical workforce.

"If it remains your intention to introduce this new contract, we believe it should be piloted in a number of trusts/across a number of deaneries and for its impact on patients, staff and the 'weekend effect' to be independently evaluated."

Mr Hunt responded that the new contract was already being brought in gradually. He tweeted: "Labour 'plan' is opportunism - only 11% of junior docs go onto new contracts in August". "We're staging implementation to ensure it works as intended. Any further delay just means we will take longer to eliminate weekend effect."

The pilot proposal was backed by Miss Clare Marx, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, who said the current dispute is "a lose-lose situation for all parties, especially patients". "If the Government proceeds with imposition in its current form it will inflict further damage on workforce morale and ultimately patient care. The planned industrial action is neither in the interests of the public nor doctors. Medical royal colleges have consistently called for an end to contract imposition and industrial action," she said.

On Saturday, Mr Hunt also wrote to Dr Porter asking him to call off the strike and come back to the negotiating table to discuss a range of concerns raised by junior doctors.

His letter said: "The extreme action planned will be deeply worrying for patients and place enormous additional strain on our NHS at a time of intense pressure. I therefore appeal to you one final time to call off strike action that will see doctors withdraw potentially life-saving care, and to meet with me on Monday to discuss a better way forward."

Picture credit: Ms Jane Campbell / Shutterstock.com

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