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Junior doctors' strike suspended after last-minute agreement

The BMA has suspended strike action over the junior doctors contract tomorrow after reaching an agreement with NHS Employers and the Department of Health to enter ’direct and meaningful’ negotiations.

The detail of the agreement says that ’following productive talks under the auspices of Acas’ the BMA has agreed to ’temporarily suspend its proposed strike action’ planned to begin tomorrow.

In return, the Department of Health has agreed to ’temporarily suspend implementation of a contract without agreement’.

Despite the successful conciliation talks, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was a ‘tragedy’ that the BMA did not talk earlier, and said that doctors now ’realise that what we are trying to do is the best thing for patients and for doctors’.

Under the plans for strike action, junior doctors were due to only provide emergency care on 1 December, followed by a full walk-out from 8am to 5pm on Tuesday 8 December, and another at the same time on Wednesday 16 December.

The ballot of junior doctors earlier this month showed an almost unanimous support for strike action, with 99.4% of junior doctors voting in favour of industrial action short of a strike, while 98% voted in favour of strike action on a turnout of 76%. 

At the same time, the BMA also announced that it had approached Acas with a view to holding conciliatory talks with the Department of Health over the health secretary’s plans to impose a contract that will remove safeguards for unsafe working, and will see rewards for weekend work taken away.

The Government had originally refused the talks, but it U-turned on the issue last week, and talks had continued over the weekend.

The statement - published by Acas on behalf of the BMA, the Department of Health and NHS Employers - says: ’We intend to reach a collaborative agreement, working in partnership to produce a new contract for junior doctors, recognising their central role in patient care and the future of the NHS.

’All parties are committed to reaching an agreement that improves safety for patients and doctors and therefore NHS Employers have agreed to extend the timeframe for the BMA to commence any industrial action by four weeks to 13 January 2016 at 17:00, to allow negotiations to progress.

’Within that timetable, the BMA agrees to temporarily suspend its proposed strike action and the Department of Health agrees similarly to temporarily suspend implementation of a contract without agreement.’

BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said: ‘Following conciliatory talks with NHS Employers and the Department of Health, we have agreed to suspend industrial action in England, which was due to begin at 8am tomorrow. The Government has also agreed not to proceed unilaterally with the introduction of a new contract. Today’s decision is in the best interests of patients, doctors and the NHS.’

But he added: ‘At that point, we will need to consider whether industrial action should be reinstated.’

Mr Hunt tweeted: ’Victory for common sense. Strike shouldn’t have been called w/o talking to govt first but great for 7 day services.’

He later told Sky News: ’The tragedy is that it took so long for the BMA to want to actually sit around the table and discuss it. But when they did, as doctors, I think they did realise that what we were trying to do was the best thing for patients and for doctors. I hope now we can make progress.’

Under the Government’s proposals, GP trainees would see the removal of a guaranteed supplement that ensures they receive pay parity with their secondary care collegues.

Please note: This story was updated on 1 December at 9:35 to incorporate Jeremy Hunt’s comments, and after official confirmation that strike action had been suspended.

Readers' comments (39)

  • Make GMC restoration part of the contract negociations. Make it run by doctors for doctors and the leadeŕ voted in by doctors.
    start making more demands, not just trying to reverse what hunt wants to do.
    BMA do not seek for personal glory and eventual gongs, do your ....job and get a pair.

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  • Vinci Ho

    For those who are probably 'bothered' by this suspension. I think the very last part of BMA's announcement this morning is most significant :

    ''Industrial action will now be suspended throughout December. In January, the parties will decide whether meaningful progress is being made. At that point, we will need to consider whether industrial action should be reinstated.

    The coming weeks will be challenging, but it is vital that we do all we can to come to a negotiated agreement. I know that you will continue to support us in this, as you have over the past few months.

    We are one profession. We stand together.''

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  • Vinci Ho

    To me , this is a battle on the first of the three fronts of our war(1. Negotiation table 2. Anti-spinning on media war 3. Grouping together to defend).........

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  • BMA is an ally of the government and hence the impotence to carry anything through. If not for the pressure from the young members of the profession this fantastic threat for action would never have arisen. But how do you back down and betray the trust of 98% of members who voted for action?
    Shame on you BMA. I'm glad I quit. This was the last straw and you will now see membership numbers crashing.
    One has to take into account, that BMA had every justification to decline ACAS involvement at this advanced stage of conflict and go the whole hog raising public awareness of the government's misinformed policies and Health strategy. The iron was hot but they didn't hit it - personal interests of Mr Potter and co took precedence! By the way, there was no mention of this strike action at all this morning on BBC - establishment gagging in full force, which highlights how crucial an opportunity this was to bring these problems out into the forefront.

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  • I agree with you Sanjeev, I quit too and so glad I did. BMA are useless and ahould have let it run. Hunt has not given anything away at all. Action sometimes speaks louder than words.

    However now they are having this time, the BMA should use this time to negociate about ALL our other demands which caused you and I and many others to quit, such as the GMC and the other many aspects of Doctors lives which are major problems.

    These are relevent as they are also damaging our health, putting us and all doctors more and more in financial crisis and need to be highlighted urgently as when the time comes round to strike again, the general public will jave a better understanding of the problem.

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  • I dont know why the BMA stopped the strike just because Hunt said he would finally negociate without giving any assurances that the contract would not be eventually forcibly implimented. He has used his manipulation of negociation to do this. Nothing has changed except his spin.

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  • I see this current situation as a win for the Juniors and the BMA. They have forced Hunt in to negotiating in the open and for once exposed this and past government's habit of imposing 'contracts'. Agreement needs to be reached for a contract to be achieved. On this occasion the juniors and BMA still hold the trump cards and may be able to play them in a fair game. Less easy for Hunt to cheat and lie when his every move is being observed by an umpire.

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  • Its important to have things in perspective.
    The Syria issue was ratcheted up to avoid domestic issues.
    It would be a very hard decision not to call off as the threat of strike was based on imposition.
    One option would have to be that if the government did not respond to ACAS at least 1 week before proposed date of strike BMA can say too late.
    This leaves both sides claiming victory.

    Hot on the heels we GP`s should start saying no to unpaid work at least now.
    Today onwards ECG`s and 24 hr BP`s are going to be referred to hospital as its not in our GMS contract.
    Also practice defensively as its one one insurance which is at risk.

    If CCG writes back regarding same, kindly inform your LMC as there is nothing in the contract that makes you to refer less!
    Alternatively ask the CCG to pay for Medical Defence Subs as CCG cannot ask you to take risks and someone else takes the benefits

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  • Young fools....only at the end, will you realise (as the small print is being adjusted).

    Young doctors are going to slip into the trap of signing up for a death grip...for the long term!

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