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Junior Doctors Strike Called Off As Negotiations Continue

The British Medical Association halted industrial action in exchange for a temporary removal of contract imposition by the government while an agreement is reached.

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Tuesday's planned strike by junior doctors has been suspended after a potential agreement was reached by the British Medical Association and health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Laura Silver / BuzzFeed News

The suspension of the industrial action comes too late to reschedule around 20,000 operations that were due to take place on Tuesday but were cancelled ahead of the day of emergency-only care only that was planned between 8am and 5pm.

The announcement follows three days of emergency talks between Hunt, the BMA, and independent negotiating body ACAS after Hunt wrote to doctors' leaders to reopen negotiations last week. "Any talks are better than strikes," Hunt said in his letter to BMA chair Mark Porter.

The strike was averted in exchange for Hunt's offer to remove the threat of imposition of the contracts while a final agreement is reached.

"Following conciliatory talks with NHS Employers and the Department of Health, we have agreed to suspend industrial action in England, which was due to begin at 8am tomorrow," the BMA confirmed in a statement. "The Government has also agreed not to proceed unilaterally with the introduction of a new contract."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health told BuzzFeed News that "meaningful negotiations" would new ensue, with the offer Hunt outlined in early November as their basis.

"All parties are committed to reaching an agreement that improves safety for patients and doctors and therefore NHS Employers have agreed to extend the timeframe for the BMA to commence industrial action by four weeks to 13 January 2016 at 5pm to allow negotiation to process," ACAS said in a statement announcing the halted strike.

"Within that timetable, the BMA agrees to temporarily suspend its proposed strike action and the Department of Health agrees similarly to temporarily suspend implementation of a contract without agreement."

Following the BMA's announcement that doctors balloted had voted in favour of industrial action on 18 November, there were four weeks in which strikes could take place. The period has been suspended while negotiations take place – but should they fail, the strike period will be reinstated until mid-January.

"This agreement would allow a time-limited period during which negotiations can take place and during which the BMA agrees to suspend strike action and the government agrees not to proceed unilaterally with implementing a new contract," Hunt told parliament ahead of the ACAS announcement.

Here is part of the text from Acas announcing the deal to postpone tomorrow's strike:

But, Hunt added, "removing the threat of imposition permanently" had not been agreed.

He reiterated his belief that higher mortality rates on weekends are in part due to current contracts having "the unintended consequence of making it too hard for hospitals to roster urgent and emergency care evenly across seven days".

Following Hunt's statement to the Commons, Labour shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander called for a cross-party collaboration on delivering a seven-day NHS service.

As highlighted by Hunt in his statement, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has noted numerous factors beyond the availability of junior doctors that could contribute to a higher number of deaths at weekends.

Hunt said he acknowledged the Royal Colleges' claim that "deficiencies in care processes [are] linked to the absence of skilled and empowered senior staff in a system which is not configured to provide full diagnostic and support services seven days a week".

Following the announcement by ACAS, Alexander said the news had "made my day".

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This news has made my day #juniordoctors https://t.co/C9luKX09Ax

Despite junior doctors overwhelmingly supporting strikes, with over 98% of those balloted voting in favour of industrial action, many have said that they felt backed into a corner by the government.

"It's with heavy hearts that we've made this decision," junior doctor Rachel Clarke told BuzzFeed News when the ballot result was announced.

Doctors are "standing up in the face of threats and bullying and hopefully leading the way for everyone in the NHS to fight to protect the best health system in the world", another junior doctor, Jessica Hanlon, told us.

The suspension has been met with support from the medical community.

This is very good news-none of us ever wanted to strike!Need to move to meaningful negotiation now. #juniorcontract https://t.co/ExRgRWAAE1

Good news. Let's hope the next round of negotiations with Juniors, Consultants and GPs is more constructive. https://t.co/7z3ZmxT7W0

Others criticised the government for waiting until the final hour to agree to the BMA's ongoing plea for imposition of the contract to be removed before meaningful negotiations could ensue.

Well, if @Jeremy_Hunt had come to negotiate when we asked him, all this shenanigans could have been avoided. #juniorcontract #juniordoctors

Last minute deal? I think this is just political theatre. I am disgusted with the SoS for letting it get this close. https://t.co/LshR2I3QfY

Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Laura Silver at laura.silver@buzzfeed.com.

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