Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has refused to take part in conciliatory talks with Acas and the BMA until ‘meaningful talks are under way’, after junior doctors delivered an almost unanimous vote for strike action against changes to their contract.
The Department of Health said it wants to return to the negotiating table before entering conciliatory talks on the dispute, which centres around the health secretary’s plans to impose a contract that will remove safeguards against unsafe working hours and cut rewards for weekend work.
At the same time, NHS England medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh moved to thwart the impact of the action, even warning of the possibility of a terror attack in the wake of the recent events in Paris.
This followed the ballot of 37,000 junior doctors, including GP registrars, which delivered a huge mandate for the BMA’s rejection of the contract, with a thumping 98% majority in favour of an all-out strike on a 76% turn-out.
Announcing the results, BMA council chair Dr Mark Porter said the BMA had approached Acas to offer ’conciliatory talks with the health secretary and NHS Employers to clarify the conflicting information coming from Government over the past weeks’.
But a DH statement said: ’We are not ruling out conciliation – however, that process should follow meaningful talks. We have already sought independent views on contract reform – having asked the independent DDRB for advice which formed the basis of our offer, an offer which the BMA have so far refused to talk about.
’Both the BMA and the Government gave evidence to the DDRB. We continue to urge the BMA to come back round the table, and as the health secretary said earlier this week, there are no preconditions to any talks.’
Mr Hunt said: ’It is regrettable that junior doctors have voted for industrial action which will put patients at risk and see operations cancelled or delayed. We want to ensure patients have the same quality of care across the week, and have put forward a generous offer that increases basic pay by 11% and reduces doctors’ hours.’
In response, a BMA spokesperson said: ’This is not just one or two junior doctors who believe that his proposals are unsafe for patients and unfair for doctors. The fact that today’s ballot result is near unanimous should be a wake-up call for the Government.
’Instead of continuing to ignore the views of tens of thousands of junior doctors who, in the health secretary’s own words are the backbone of the NHS, he should, if he really wants to avoid industrial action, accept the BMA’s offer of conciliatory talks.’
The first day of action is set for Tuesday 1 December when junior doctors will provide only emergency cover for 24 hours, after which they plan to stage a full walk-out from 8am to 5pm on Tuesday 8 December, and another at the same time on Wednesday 16 December.
This marks a major step up in action compared with the BMA’s last strike, held in 2012 over pensions changes, when doctors continued to provide emergency care.
Sir Bruce immediately moved to thwart the impact of the action – even citing the Paris terror attacks.
In a letter to Dr Porter, Sir Bruce said: ’In light of the tragic events in Paris last Friday night, and the ongoing threat level in the UK, we need to ensure we have a clear understanding of arrangements should a major incident be declared.
’Will the BMA ensure that members will be available to respond to a major incident, whether this is declared because of a sudden single event or an unprecedented surge in activity?
’Will junior doctors who would otherwise have been rostered for duty make themselves available to respond in a timely way, within one hour of a major incident being declared?’