The health secretary said on Tuesday that negotiating the junior doctors contract is "likely my last big job in politics".
Jeremy Hunt made the surprise admission on BBC Radio 4's Today, minutes after tens of thousands of junior doctors began their strike, which for the first time in the NHS's history, includes a full walkout of A&E departments.
Thousands of operations have been cancelled but A&E departments and maternity units will be staffer by senior NHS doctors.
When pressed about whether the health secretary considered himself a barrier to negotiations, Hunt said: "This is likely my last big job in politics. The one thing that will keep me up is if I didn't do the right thing to help make the NHS one of the safest and highest-quality health systems of the world."
Hunt also reaffirmed his commitment to a "seven-day NHS", as featured on the first page of the Conservative party's manifesto at last year's general election.
"What I have said is that we have too many heartbreaking stories of parents who have lost children, of people who have lost loved ones because we are not providing high-quality care at the weekends," the health secretary said.
A poll by Ipsos Mori, carried out for BBC News, revealed that the majority of adults in the UK support junior doctors. Fifty-seven per cent of adults in England said they supported the strike, while a third blame both sides.
Hunt was also critical of the British Medical Association, which has been negotiating the contract on behalf of junior doctors.
"The choice they gave us was to tear up that manifesto commitment [for a "seven-day NHS"]," Hunt said, "and I think that no union, however powerful they are, however good they are at soliciting public sympathy, has a right to stop the government implementing something the British government has voted for."
Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Siraj Datoo at email@example.com.
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