UK

Junior doctors' strike: BMA totally irresponsible - Jeremy Hunt

Junior doctors and their supporters stage a "masked march" protest in London on February 6 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Junior doctors and their supporters staged a "masked march" protest in London on Saturday

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has accused the British Medical Association of being "totally irresponsible" over a lengthy industrial dispute.

The doctors' union had refused to sit down and talk about improving patient care and had spread "misinformation", he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

Mr Hunt wants to change junior doctors' contracts, which he says are "unfair".

The BMA said its door was open to talks and blamed the strikes on Mr Hunt's "shambolic mishandling" of the matter.

'Devalued'

The dispute, which began in 2014 and centres around pay and weekend working, has led to strikes being held across England.

The next is a 24-hour strike planned for Wednesday, when emergency care will only be provided from 08:00 GMT.

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Media captionAndrew Marr read out junior doctors' concerns for Jeremy Hunt to respond to

Asking by Marr about low morale among junior doctors, Mr Hunt said: "One of the reasons for that anger is that they were told by the BMA that their pay was going to be cut - it isn't.

"They were told that they were going to be asked to work longer hours - they aren't," he added.

"We are actually bringing down the hours that they work. And if you are told by your union that the health secretary wants to do these awful things - of course you are going to feel devalued."

'Alienating a generation'

BMA junior doctor committee chairman Dr Johann Malawana said Mr Hunt was threatening to impose a contract that junior doctors had "roundly rejected".

"Junior doctors already work around the clock, seven days a week, and they do so under their existing contract," he said.

"If the government want more seven-day services then, quite simply, they need more doctors, nurses and diagnostic staff, and the extra investment needed to deliver it."

He went on to say the health secretary risked "alienating a generation of junior doctors and undermining the delivery of future patient care".

Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander said Mr Hunt was "insulting the intelligence" of junior doctors.

"This is a group of people who are incredibly intelligent, are able to make their own minds up, have read the proposals for themselves and have followed the negotiations very carefully," she told Sky News.


What is the dispute about?

Image copyright Getty Images
  • 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 payments for unsociable hours - they have maintained there is not extra money for junior doctor pay
  • The government says the changes are needed to create more seven-days services, but the BMA warns safeguards to keep a lid on excessive hours are being weakened and also has concerns about career progression and weekend pay

The junior doctors row explained

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