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Junior doctors call five-day strike over contract imposition

Junior doctors in hospitals across England will hold an unprecedented five-day strike in less than two weeks as part of an escalating dispute over a new contract.

Following yesterday’s meeting of the British Medical Association (BMA) council, the BMA announced that it will hold a full walkout of junior doctors from 8am to 5pm on 12 to 17 September, with later strikes to be confirmed.

Junior doctors held five strikes earlier this year, before negotiating a new contract after the government made concessions on areas such as pay for unsocial working hours. However, BMA members then voted 68% against the contract, ending the possibility of an agreement between the two sides.

Dr Ellen McCourt, chair of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, said junior doctors would call off the strikes if the government cancelled its decision to impose the contract.

“We have a simple ask of the government: stop the imposition,” she said. “If it agrees to do this, junior doctors will call off industrial action.”

Dr McCourt said that the strike was “not a situation junior doctors wanted to find themselves in” but that the government had “left them with no other choice”.

She added that doctors were concerned the contract would “fuel the workforce crisis” and discriminate against groups such as female and disabled doctors who are more likely to work part-time hours.

The Royal College of Physicians warned recently that the NHS will face an “extremely difficult autumn”, even before the latest strikes, because of difficulties filling gaps in the rota.

“With just weeks before the first group of doctors is moved on to the imposed contract, time is running out,” Dr McCourt said. “This contract will be in place for many years, it will have a direct impact on patient care and whether we can attract and keep enough doctors in the NHS. It is too important to be rushed to meet a political deadline.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said that as doctors’ representatives, the BMA should be putting patients first, “not playing politics in a way that will be immensely damaging for vulnerable patients”.

“What’s more, the BMA must be the first union in history to call for strike action against a deal they themselves negotiated and said was a good one,” they said. “Whilst there are many pressures on the frontline, funding is at record levels, with the highest number of doctors employed in the history of the NHS. Co-operation not confrontation is the way forward to make sure patients get the best treatment and the NHS is there for people whenever they need it.”

Senior figures in the NHS also condemned the junior doctors’ decision.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said the organisation was “shocked and saddened” at the news.

He added: “The proposed action is extreme in its scale and timing and shows scant regard for patients, nor to their colleagues who will have to work under even greater pressure when this industrial action goes ahead.

“Trusts will be working hard to minimise disruption, but many thousands of operations and appointments will need to be cancelled or rearranged causing distress, delay and pain to our patients.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said that while he recognised junior doctors’ “legitimate concerns”, the dispute had gone on “far too long” and the strikes would “only bring more disruption to patients and front line services”.

He said that the contract agreed earlier this summer had “represented a sensible compromise” and that both sides would have to compromise to resolve the issue without further strikes.

Professor Derek Bell, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and Dr Katherine Walesby, chair of its trainees’ committee, also called for a resolution to the dispute.

“Today we reiterate our call for the UK government, through the prime minister, to recognise the enormity of this situation and take action to bring all parties back together to facilitate a solution and avoid further strike action,” they said. “We need to restore stability in the junior doctor workforce in England not create further uncertainty.”

(Image c. David Wilcock from PA Images)

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