Junior doctor strikes back on as talks fail

By Nick Triggle
Health correspondent

media captionHealth Secretary Jeremy Hunt: "It's a very disappointing outcome today"

Strikes by junior doctors in England are back on after talks with the government broke down.

A 24-hour walk-out next Tuesday will be followed by a 48-hour strike on 26 January, and a third day in February in the contract dispute.

The government has asked the conciliation service Acas to step in.

The strike action is likely to lead to thousands of non-emergency operations and hospital appointments being cancelled in the coming days.

But despite the failure to reach a deal, both sides have already indicated they want to keep negotiating ahead of next week's walk-out.

It comes after the British Medical Association agreed to cancel three strikes last month to re-enter talks with the government.

The union had until midnight to decide whether it still wanted to take industrial action - or face having to re-ballot its members.

media captionDr Mark Porter, BMA: "The government's insisting on plans which are bad for patient care, for junior doctors, for the NHS in the long term"

This is because of trade union rules which only allow industrial action in set timescales and require unions to give a week's notice of any walk-out.

The strike details announced are:

  • 08:00 Tuesday 12 January to 08:00 Wednesday 13 January (emergency care will be staffed)
  • 08:00 Tuesdays 26 January to 08:00 Thursday 28 January (emergency care will be staffed)
  • 08:00 to 17:00 Wednesday 10 February (full walk-out)

The development came after both sides sat down on Monday for the first time since the Christmas break.

Weeks of negotiations had taken place right up until Christmas Eve following the intervention of conciliation service Acas.

Those talks marked the first time both sides had met formally since the break down of the original talks in autumn 2014.

What is the dispute about?

image copyrightPA
  • The row between junior doctors and the government is over a new contract
  • Talks broke down in 2014, but the dispute has escalated since the summer after ministers said they would impose the deal
  • Ministers offered doctors an 11% rise in basic pay last year, but that was offset by curbs to other elements of the pay package, including unsociable hours payments
  • The government has said the changes are need to create more seven-days services, but the BMA has warned it could lead to doctors being over-worked because safeguards to keep a lid on excessive hours are being weakened
  • A series of protests have been held across the country and 98% of BMA members who took part in the ballot backed strike action

But BMA leader Dr Mark Porter said the union had been left with no choice but to move towards industrial action as despite the weeks of negotiations the government still was not taking their concerns "seriously".

"We sincerely regret the disruption that industrial action will cause, but junior doctors have been left with no option. It is because the government's proposals would be bad for patient care as well as junior doctors in the long-term that we are taking this stand," he added.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the contract had to change to help improve weekend care.

He said the sticking point in the latest round of discussions had been over weekend pay and he had asked Acas to help them reconvene talks.

"It is extremely disappointing that the BMA have chosen to take industrial action which helps no-one. We had made good progress."

Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, added the news was "extremely disappointing".

"Once again patients are being caught in the middle of this bitter dispute."

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