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Labour criticises Hunt’s ‘flippant rejection’ of conciliatory talks



Labour ministers have urged Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to accept the BMA’s offer of conciliation over the junior doctors dispute, accusing him of ‘flippancy’ in refusing to go straight to Acas for talks.

Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander said junior doctors were ‘particularly angry’ with the health secretary and that his ‘seeming flippant rejection’ of the need for Acas to step in showed ‘a casual disregard for patient safety’.

Speaking in a Commons debate this morning, Ms Alexander said: ‘There are nine days left before the first day of planned industrial action… it’s now time to talk.’

Health minister Alistair Burt insisted there was no need for independent mediation until further negotiations took place – and that the BMA were preventing further dialogue.

He said: ‘The secretary of state has kept his door open all the time, after starting negotiations three and a half years ago… and it’s for the BMA to come through and say they want to continue the negotiations.

Mr Burt added: ‘The secretary of state has said he is perfectly prepared to go to conciliation, but [that] usually comes after a process in which the negotiations have broken down – the negotiations haven’t even kicked off again.’

But Labour MPs insisted there had been a breakdown of trust in the Government and that it was time for an independent arbitration.

Andrew Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith, said ‘the anger that has led to this 98% vote for action is because [junior doctors] have been told they will get a pay rise, when they may even get a pay cut, and they have been told, disgracefully, that somehow they may be responsible.’

He added: ‘The only way to restore trust now is independent arbitration.’

The dispute 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.

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.