News

Junior doctors' strike called off – for now

Breakthrough comes too late to avoid disruption, with more than 4,000 operations cancelled

A proposed strike by junior doctors has been called off at the 11th hour, but not before thousands of scheduled routine operations were cancelled.

More than 50,000 junior doctors in England had been due to cover emergencies only for 24 hours from 8am today (December 1) in a row over new contracts.

The British Medical Association (BMA) agreed to suspend the strike after a breakthrough in talks with the Department of Health and NHS Employers. It followed five days of negotiating at the independent conciliation and arbitration service ACAS.

Two more scheduled strikes for December 8 and 16 have also been suspended, but the BMA has until January 13 to begin industrial action, as negotiations continue.

The last-minute agreement came too late to prevent disruption for patients, with more than 4,000 non-urgent or routine operations being cancelled about 15% of the total across the country.

A proposed strike by junior doctors has been called off at the 11th hour, but not before thousands of scheduled routine operations were cancelled. 

More than 50,000 junior doctors in England had been due to cover emergencies only for 24 hours from 8am today (December 1) in a row over new contracts.

The British Medical Association (BMA) agreed to suspend the strike after a breakthrough in talks with the Department of Health and NHS Employers. It followed five days of negotiating at the independent conciliation and arbitration service ACAS.

Two more scheduled strikes for December 8 and 16 have also been suspended, but the BMA has until January 13 to begin industrial action, as negotiations continue.

The last-minute agreement came too late to prevent disruption for patients, with more than 4,000 non-urgent or routine operations being cancelled – about 15% of the total across the country.

The BMA objects to moves to reduce the hours for which junior doctors would receive antisocial hours pay, but called off the first strike after the government removed a threat to impose the new contract. 

BMA council chair Mark Porter said: ‘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.

‘The coming weeks will be challenging, but it is vital that we do all we can to come to a negotiated agreement.’

In a statement, NHS Employers said: 'All parties are committed to reaching an agreement that improves safety for patients and doctors.

'Productive talks are now ongoing as all parties work to reach an agreement.'

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis warned health secretary Jeremy Hunt against ‘trying to introduce a seven-day NHS on the cheap’ and claimed the dispute was ‘likely to be a dress rehearsal for what could happen when ministers turn their attention to the wider NHS workforce’.

‘Our health service needs a sustained injection of cash, yet Mr Hunt seems to think he can offer more to patients by slashing pay and cutting jobs,' he said.

‘The government should not be trying to improve the reach of the NHS off the backs of hard-working staff. But that’s exactly what ministers are doing.’

Labour’s shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander blamed Mr Hunt for the dispute, saying: ‘If he had agreed to independent talks when it was first put to him, he could have avoided or at least mitigated any disruption to patients.

‘Unfortunately, it will now be too late to rearrange the operations and appointments that have been cancelled and those patients deserve an apology from him. The government’s handling of these negotiations has been a lesson in precisely how not to do it.’

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