Junior doctors' strikes: Jeremy Hunt rejects plan to pilot contract

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Media captionMore strikes are planned in the ongoing contract dispute

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has rejected a cross-party plan by MPs for a new NHS contract for junior doctors be piloted first in a bid to end the long-running row over its imposition.

In a letter, the MPs call for it to be independently evaluated in operation and a study made of its impact on mortality rates at weekends.

Junior doctors in England are to begin two more days of strikes on Tuesday.

Mr Hunt said the contract was already going to be brought in gradually.

He tweeted: "Labour 'plan' is opportunism - only 11% of junior docs go onto new contracts in August".

"We're staging implementation to ensure it works as intended. Any further delay just means we will take longer to eliminate weekend effect."

Junior doctors' row: The dispute explained

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Junior doctors are planning two one-day strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday, walking out between 8am and 5pm each day.

If they go ahead, it will be the first time in the history of the NHS that junior doctors have walked out of accident and emergency units, urgent maternity services, resuscitation and mental health crisis teams.

Doctors union the BMA says its representatives will discuss the possibility of calling off the strikes if the government agrees to limited trials of the contract.

The last strike, which started on 6 April, led to more than 5,000 operations and procedures being postponed as a result of the 48-hour walkout.

Mr Hunt has argued that he wants to improve care on Saturdays and Sundays, saying research shows patients are more likely to die if they are admitted during a weekend.

The new contract - which junior doctors have so far rejected - would change the terms of their pay and conditions, particularly at weekends.

The health secretary has said he will now unilaterally impose the contract on junior doctors.

Mr Hunt has written to Mark Porter, the chairman of the BMA council, asking him to call off the strike and discuss other issues of concern raised by junior doctors.

His letter said: "The extreme action planned will be deeply worrying for patients and place enormous additional strain on our NHS at a time of intense pressure.

"I therefore appeal to you one final time to call off strike action that will see doctors withdraw potentially life-saving care, and to meet with me on Monday to discuss a better way forward."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Jeremy Hunt has said he will impose the new contract

In the cross-party letter - organised by Labour's shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander - the group of MPs wrote: "You will be aware that medical leaders, royal colleges and patient groups, have said the imposition or unilateral introduction of the contract is the wrong approach and risks permanent damage to the future of the medical workforce.

"If it remains your intention to introduce this new contract, we believe it should be piloted in a number of trusts/across a number of deaneries and for its impact on patients, staff and the 'weekend effect' to be independently evaluated."

The letter was also signed by Conservative Dr Dan Poulter, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb and the SNP's Dr Philippa Whitford.

NHS England says the proposed strike will put-back 112,856 outpatient appointments and 12,711 planned operations between 18 April and 2 May.

Image copyright Science Photo Library

The president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Clare Marx, said the dispute was a "lose-lose situation" for all parties, but said the college backed the cross-party proposal as a way to end the row.

"Patients must come first. The dispute must come to an end," she said.

Dr Anne Rainsberry, national incident director for NHS England, said it was with "enormous regret that we find patients put in this position."

She added: "The NHS has been pulling out all the stops to minimise the risks to the quality and safety of care but this is an unprecedented situation during a time of heightened risk."

The BMA said it had given trusts several weeks' notice to plan ahead.

A spokesman added: "Junior doctors deeply regret disruption to patients but they are taking this action because they fundamentally believe the government's plans will be bad for patient care in the long term."

NHS England has put together a website with information for people needing healthcare over the strike period.

Are you a patient who will have treatment disrupted by next week's strike? You can email with your experiences.

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