The BMA is undertaking conciliatory talks with the Government on Thursday morning, but has refused to call off the strike action planned over the next month until the Government removes the threat to impose a contract.
In a U-turn on Wednesday, the Government agreed to enter conciliatory talks with over the impending junior doctors strike, after health secretary Jeremy Hunt last week refused the BMA’s offer on talks.
Dr Porter said it was ‘encouraging’ that the Government had agreed to enter conciliation talks, and the talks are to take place at 10am on Thursday.
However, he said that it would not call off the strike until the Government removed the threat of a contract imposition.
The BMA has consistently said it would enter negotiations only if the Department of Health made commitments to not impose a contract, to ensure that safeguards around working hours remained, and to ensure that no junior doctors suffered a pay cut as a result of the changes.
It is also calling for Saturday and evening working to be rewarded above standard weekday hours.
The Government had been unwilling to give such guarantees, and junior doctors were forced to call off negotiations as a result.
The BMA held a ballot for industrial action earlier this month, which resulted in 98% of junior doctors voting in favour of full strike action.
The first action – which would see junior doctors continuing to provide emergency care – is scheduled for 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 planned action is in contrast to the industrial action held in 2012 in protest at the pensions changes, during which doctors continued to provide emergency care.
In a bid to stave off this action, Mr Hunt wrote on Wednesday: ’Patient safety has been my absolute priority through my tenure as health secretary. The extreme action planned in December poses a serious threat to that safety.
’Whilst I believe the right thing to do is to return to the negotiating table directly, it is very clear that any talks are better than strikes, so in the first instance I am very happy for my officials and NHS Employers to commence those talks during ACAS conciliation services.’
The BMA said that it was only informed of the offer at the same time as the media.
Responding to the letter, Dr Mark Porter said: ’It is encouraging that Jeremy Hunt has made a significant shift in accepting the BMA’s offer of conciliatory talks through Acas, finally recognising the fact that trust has broken down between junior doctors and the government.
’However, junior doctors and the public, who by now will be used to Jeremy Hunt’s political game playing, will not be surprised by the fact that he has waited until now to do the right thing.
’We hope to start these talks as soon as possible in order to reach a collaborative agreement for the benefit of patients and the NHS. Importantly, Jeremy Hunt must finally remove his threat of imposition in order to defer Tuesday’s industrial action.’
The BMA has since confirmed that the talks have been arranged.
Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the Health Select Committee and a former GP, broke the news of the Government’s U-turn to Pulse earlier today.
She said: ’It would be a good idea for the BMA to show goodwill. Many junior doctors who have spoken to me have said they do not want to go on strike. Now would absolutely be the right time to suspend strike action.’