Junior doctor strikes 'very damaging' for patients

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

The strikes by junior doctors in England could be "very damaging" for patients, the health secretary says.

The British Medical Association has called three-walkouts - the first next Tuesday - after talks broke down.

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

The BMA said it had been left with no choice as the government had failed to address their concerns.

But Jeremy Hunt has maintained the action was "unnecessary" as the talks had been making progress.

"It is extremely disappointing that the BMA have chosen to take industrial action which helps no-one," he added.

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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"

The strikes were called on Monday after both sides failed to reach a deal in the contract dispute during a day of talks.

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

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.

It comes after the British Medical Association agreed to cancel three strikes last month to re-enter talks with the government. Several weeks of negotiations took place in the lead up to Christmas and then they reconvened on Monday for another attempt.

But despite the failure to reach a deal, both sides have already indicated they want to keep talking ahead of next week's 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)

What is the dispute about?

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  • 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

The junior doctors row explained

What exactly do junior doctors do?

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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.

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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