NHS consultants: Employers 'close to 7-day contract offer'

Doctors and nurses Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The existing consultants contract includes an opt-out that means doctors do not have to do non-emergency weekend work

Consultants in England could be offered new NHS contracts within weeks, the BBC understands, after what ministers have called "constructive" negotiations.

Ministers want to remove a clause that lets consultants opt out of providing non-emergency care at weekends as part of their plans for a "seven-day NHS".

A breakthrough is seen as vital by the government as it tries to move on from the junior doctors row.

The latest strike by junior medics ended on Friday morning.

The 48-hour stoppage was the third walkout, with another two planned for next month as the profession fights the imposition of the new contract.

The talks with consultants' leaders at the BMA began in autumn and slowed down at the turn of the year.

However, momentum has gathered in recent weeks, the BBC has been told, and there is a possibility they could conclude before Easter, with meetings held this week and planned for next.

The negotiations, led by NHS Employers for ministers, have centred on removing the weekend opt-out consultants have for non-emergency care.

The government believes this is a major barrier to getting more consultants to work weekends, although the BMA says its research suggests nine in 10 consultants do some level of weekend working.

The opt-out means doctors can command pay three or four times the normal rate when they are asked to do non-emergency weekend shifts. Some of the bonuses consultants get have also been discussed.

Sources close to the talks said there had been "good progress" recently.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Junior doctors are planning to go on strike twice next month

But there is concern within the BMA that if consultants do agree a deal it could leave junior doctors isolated, with ministers intent on imposing the contract on them from the summer.

A spokeswoman for the BMA said the talks remained "ongoing" but there had not yet been an agreement.

Any offer would have to be put out to the BMA's consultant membership and consideration is even being given to asking those junior doctors at the end of their training - and therefore close to becoming a consultant - whether they would be happy with the deal.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We want to introduce a fairer contract for consultants that better reflects their role as leaders in our NHS and helps to ensure patients get safe, high-quality care every day of the week.

"Talks with the BMA over proposed amendments to consultant contracts have been constructive."

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