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BMA and NHS Employers agree to talks over junior doctors' contract as strike plans remain

Both sides in the dispute over new contracts for junior doctors in England will enter talks with the independent arbitrator ACAS to head off strike action planned to start next week

The organisation representing junior doctors in their row with the government says it will only defer industrial action if the threat to forcibly impose new contracts is dropped.

The British Medical Association (BMA) and NHS Employers (representing the Department for Health) yesterday agreed to talks via the independent Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).

More than 50,000 junior doctors in England are set to strike on Tuesday, with a further two walkouts planned on December 8 and 16 over a new contract which includes proposals to reduce the hours when junior doctors receive antisocial hours pay.

Until now, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has insisted that only direct talks between the two sides were on offer.

However, Mr Hunt has written to BMA council chair Mark Porter to invite him to discussions through ACAS.

While Mr Porter agreed to the request, he refused to suspend the threatened industrial action.

‘It is encouraging that Mr Hunt has made a significant shift, finally recognising the fact that trust has broken down,' he said.

‘However, junior doctors and the public will not be surprised that he has waited until now to do the right thing.

'Importantly, Mr Hunt must finally remove his threat of imposition to defer Tuesday’s industrial action.’

In the letter to Dr Porter, Mr Hunt said: ‘While I believe the right thing to do is to return to the negotiating table directly, it is clear that any talks are better than strikes.'

Mr Hunt said that the government has committed an extra £3.8 billion next year to expand seven-day NHS services and with that had to come reform of contracts.

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: ‘Employers across the NHS will welcome a return to discussions with the BMA, working with ACAS.

'I remain hopeful that through our joint endeavours we can end this dispute, and modernise the contracts for doctors while also addressing their concerns.’

If Tuesday’s industrial action does go ahead, junior doctors in England will provide emergency care only, with further full strike action planned on December 8 and 16.

The RCN has advised nurses to continue to work as normal during the planned action.

NHS trusts are already putting contingency plans in place.

A Torbay and Southern Devon Health and Care NHS Trust spokesperson said the organisation had ‘robust procedures and contingency plans’ in place, and these would not require the use of agency nurses.

She said: ‘Clinical nurse specialists with specialist skills such as cannulation will be asked if they can be available to assist on their home wards. The critical care outreach team will be available as normal.’

A Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said some of its nurses would be offering additional support during the industrial action, as most non-urgent operations and ‘a significant number’ of outpatient clinic appointments were being cancelled.

‘Some clinical nurse specialists will cancel their clinics to provide support in other areas,’ he said.

‘Nurses will not be asked to undertake any additional duties which would be inappropriate for them to carry out.’

A King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said it may have to cancel some non-urgent operations and outpatient clinics, but expected all urgent and emergency services to continue as normal, with nurses not being asked to carry out duties they are not trained to do.

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