Hunt agrees to 'pause' imposition and resume talks with junior doctors

UPDATE: Hunt offers to resume talks with junior doctors

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has accepted the suggestion from the royal colleges that he suspend imposition of the junior doctors’ contract for five days to allow talks to resume.

In a letter to Professor Dame Sue Bailey, Hunt said today that he would ‘pause’ the introduction of the contract from Monday on the condition that junior doctors agree to return to the negotiating table.

He also asked for a written agreement from the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee that they will negotiate “substantively and in good faith” on the outstanding issues of unsocial hours and Saturday pay.

Hunt and Bailey are meeting today to discuss the negotiations in more detail.


The BMA has agreed to temporarily suspend strike threats and return to the negotiating table after the Academy of Medical Colleges called on the government to ‘pause’ the process of imposing the new junior doctors’ contract for five days in order to inspire further talks.

In what it perceived as a “deadlocked” dispute between junior doctors and the government, the Academy claimed both sides have an “over-riding duty to put patients first” and to stop wasting “millions of pounds”.

And with so many junior doctors considering other careers or moving abroad, recent developments in the long-running contract dispute “will put a potentially unsustainable strain on an already under-resourced system”, both in the short and longer term, the royal colleges said.

Professor Dame Sue Bailey, chair of the Academy, said: “A five day pause without ‘ifs, buts or maybes’ and with both sides in the dispute publicly committing to a serious attempt to reach a resolution through genuine dialogue is obviously the only way out of this impasse.

“Before either side does anything else, all the 22 medical royal colleges and faculties are unanimously calling on the secretary of state for health, Jeremy Hunt, and the chair of the BMA’s Junior Doctors’ Committee, Johann Malawana, to take a deep breath, dial down the rhetoric and get back to the table for talks facilitated, perhaps, by a senior independent figure.”

Malawana suggested that the union, which hasn’t negotiated with the government in three months since talks broke down in February, is willing to put strike threats on hold – if the government drops the threat of imposing the contract.

“The government itself has admitted that there are serious, outstanding issues with the proposed contract,” he said.

“As such, the BMA would be prepared to agree to this proposal and temporarily suspend industrial action so that talks can resume with a mutually agreed facilitator, if the government is also prepared to suspend the threat of imposition.”

The NHS Confederation also backed the idea of a five-day ‘pause’, which it argued would create a “safe space” for conversation to find a way out of the dispute.

Its chief executive, Rob Webster, added: “Both sides should give serious consideration to an approach that would find support from across managerial and clinical leaders. Our members are all keen to see a swift resolution for the benefit of patients and staff, especially when the service is under such intense pressure.”

The General Medical Council, which previously urged junior doctors to return to work if their strikes put patients at risk, also said it supports any initiative that seeks to “bring both sides together to resolve the issues”.

‘It’s too late’

But while the Department of Health said it is still willing to talk, it still refuses to discuss sticking points in the new contract.

A spokesman for the department said: “The BMA directly caused the introduction of new contracts after we agreed to suspend imposition last November, because they went back on their word to talk about Saturday pay. It is now too late to change the process of bringing in contracts which is well underway throughout the country.

“However, the door remains open to talk about implementation and many other non-contractual issues of concern to junior doctors, so if this intervention helps those talks to go ahead, we welcome that."

Two weeks ago, a cross-party suggestion to pilot the new contract in certain areas before rolling it out nationwide seemed to offer a glimmer of hope in the long-running conflict between the union and Whitehall. But the plan was swiftly rejected by Hunt, apparently after discussing it with Downing Street, according to national press.

Should the government not budge on its decision to impose the new contract as it stands, or should further talks continue to break down, it is possible that junior doctors will launch “indefinite” strikes.

The BMA’s junior doctors committee is expected to meet on Saturday to discuss how they can intensify the campaign of strike action, including through an indefinite all-out strike and a mass resignation of junior doctors.

But if today’s renewed calls for fresh negotiations is successful, both parties could resume talks at Acas as early as next week, according to the Guardian.

(Top image c. David Wilcock, PA Images)

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Terry Nicholson   07/05/2016 at 13:39

7/7 not 5/7 So the conflict over how to change our NHS to a seven day week system is set to continue, as does also the blame game. All I know that from my family’s tragic experience the longer this conflict exist and the more acrid it becomes the total of weekend victims will continue . May I first of all put aside the myth that all patients entering hospital on a Friday have to do so because for them it is an emergency. From my experience I found the reverse to be more true, that entering hospital on a Friday it is more likely the outcome will develop into an emergency situation. My Mother entered a NHS DERRIFORD Hospital in Plymouth, our home town, on a Friday morning for a pre-arranged minor operation requiring only an overnight stay. The outcome was that on a Sunday she died in utter and prolonged agony caused by peritonitis due to leaking clip/micro surgery. So over the weekend it went from having a minor op to then my brothers and I being asked to give our consent to have Mum’s life support system switched off..Mum died not long after. I shall never forget how helpless I felt at the time and being racked by guilt afterwards about could I have done more to have saved her. If that wasn’t traumatic enough my brothers and I set out to discover what went wrong and why. We were denied an internal review. Only option left was to take it to the Ombudsman who after a complaints process involving us and lasting three years. Finally the Ombudsman upheld our complaint , classed it as Avoidable and recommended a number of changes to be made. The first one being having more staff and a better structure available at weekends. Which they promised to do. All of this was done with effort to avoid this happening again, but fate wasn’t going to let us off that easy. As a few years later I read to my dismay that another patient had died in the same circumstances in the same hospital as Mum over a weekend period. I again wrote to the Ombudsman to draw his attention to the similarities between this case and my Mum’s. Her relatives chose to take the legal route. So a curse on this five day week flawed system an all that seek to prolong it. Please if I may think carefully if you have a Friday’s appointment. Terry ,Cirencester, Glos PS Terry, Perhaps you ought to mention that up to this point your Mum was extremely strong and healthy, both in body and mind. JENNY.

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