Health

Hunt hints at junior doctor compromise

White coat Image copyright Science Photo Library

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has hinted he may compromise in the junior doctor contract dispute in an attempt to get union leaders back into talks.

Mr Hunt met with the British Medical Association last week after it announced it would be asking members in England if they wanted to take action.

The dispute is over a new contract due to be introduced in August 2016.

Mr Hunt has now written to the BMA suggesting he could give ground over unsociable hours payments.

Critics have argued the deal could mean 15% pay cuts with "normal hours" re-classed as being from 7am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday.

It means extra payments for unsociable working will only be given outside of these times, rather than the current arrangements of 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday.

But the letter seen by the BBC says Mr Hunt would be "pleased to discuss" a compromise on the definition of normal hours on a Saturday.

The letter also seeks to reassure doctors that the contract is not a "cost-cutting exercise" and that the "great majority" of doctors would remain as well paid as they were now.

The government has described the current contracts as "outdated" and "unfair", pointing out they were introduced in the 1990s.

Ministers drew up plans to change the contract in 2012 but talks broke down last year.

'Encouraging'

The government has indicated it will impose the new contract next year in England, prompting the BMA to ask its 53,000 junior doctor members about industrial action - a move which led to last week's meeting between the two sides.

Dr Johann Malawana, chairman of the BMA's junior doctor committee, said the letter was encouraging.

But he added: "Questions still remain and we are urgently seeking clarification on the points raised in the letter."

Scotland and Wales have said they do not want to introduce the changes, while Northern Ireland has yet to make a decision.

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