Government Will Briefly "Pause" Imposition Of Junior Doctors Contracts
The government has said it will consider a five-day delay to the imposition of the controversial contracts to bring all parties back to the negotiating table, as proposed by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.
The government will "pause" the implementation of a controversial new junior doctors' contract after the British Medical Association (BMA) agreed to hold off planning further strike action.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, acting on behalf of 22 medical colleges and facilities, suggested the imposition of the new junior doctors contract be delayed by five days to allow the Department of Health and the British Medical Association (BMA) to resume talks after a three-month impasse.
The BMA has indicated it would be prepared to agree to the colleges' proposal, and in a letter sent by the health secretary Jeremy Hunt to the Academy chair he confirmed the DoH was prepared to pause the introduction of a new contract for five days.
“This is a significant show of good faith by the Government to break the deadlock," Hunt said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "We now need the BMA to agree to negotiate on Saturday pay, the biggest single area of difference, in order for the talks to proceed.”
Johann Malawana, head of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said they had "repeatedly urged" the government to re-enter negotiations.
"We are keen to restart talks with an open mind," he said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "It is critical to find a way forward on all the outstanding issues - which are more than just pay - and hope that a new offer is made that can break the impasse."
Should the two parties agree to meet, it would be a major move forward in the dispute, especially as Hunt had previously ruled out cancelling highly controversial changes to the contracts.
In the first sign of a relaxation, Lord Prior of Brampton said the government is prepared to consider a "pause" in the implementation of the contract for five days, to allow negotiations – solely focused on the issue of Saturday pay, and other outstanding contractual issues – to be resumed.
Should the plan to impose the controversial seven-day contract continue, further strike action coordinated by the BMA appears inevitable.
Professor Dame Sue Bailey, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, called on both Hunt and Malawana to “take a deep breath, dial down the rhetoric, and get back to the table”.
"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," Bailey said.
Malawana said the government had already admitted there were "serious, outstanding issues" in the proposed junior doctors contract.
"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," he said.
But the Department of Health stood firm on its commitment to impose the new contracts, saying it was "too late" to change the process.
"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," a spokesperson told the BBC.
Should talks proceed – a major step forward in the long-running row over pay and junior doctors' working hours – they could be held as soon as next week, chaired by the independent Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).
Meanwhile, a cross-party measure suggested by Hunt to trial the contract in parts of England ahead of a proposed full English rollout in August has been discarded – apparently after the proposal was floated in front of Downing Street, The Guardian reported.
The latest developments come ahead of a BMA meeting on Saturday. It is considering intensifying action against the government, including an indefinite all-out strike, as well as a mass resignation of junior doctors.
Junior doctors have staged four strikes affecting routine care since January, and last week they staged the first of two full walkouts in the history of NHS.