HEALTH: Junior doctor strike is back on after talks over new contracts crumble

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The junior doctors strike is back on following allegations that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had lied about the health of negotiations between the Government and medical unions.

Strike action at hospitals around the area, including King’s Mill and Chesterfield Royal, was called off in the eleventh hour in November following talks with arbitration service ACAS.

But the first one-day strike was rescheduled for Tuesday, January 12, after doctors accused Mr Hunt of ‘typical spin’.

He had claimed that talks between the British Medical Association (BMA), NHS Employers and Government officials had nearly reached an agreement to avoid mass walkouts later this month.

However, junior doctor and campaigner Dr Salwa Malik said Mr Hunt’s assertion that a dispute over weekend pay was the single issue left in contention was a lie, claiming instead that the parties remained at loggerheads over three issues.

If consensus is not found, junior doctors have promised to stage three strikes, beginning with a walkout on Tuesday January 12.

Mr Hunt said he had received a letter from Acas, the Government’s industrial relations body, which said “very good progress has been made on 15 of the 16 issues raised in the Acas process”.

He added: “That’s where I got my numbers from and I think we did make good progress and I think the particular area where we made good progress was over pay and was patient safety.”

Mr Hunt said 99 per cent of doctors would “see their pay protected or increased”.

He added that his department had agreed with the BMA to put a cap on doctors working more than four nights or five “long” days in a row.

The maximum hours that any doctor can work in a week will be reduced from 91 to 72, or an average of 56 hours a week over a two-month period.

He added that plans were being considered to have more experienced clinicians on hand to support junior doctors at weekends.

But junior doctors at both King’s Mill and Chesterfield Royal are expected to man the picket lines from around 9am, with only those covering emergency departments to turn up for work.

British Medical Association chairman Mark Porter said it “remains possible” that action could be called off but insisted the Government would have to go “further” than it has so far.

He said: “The Government is, understandably, putting round the fact that agreement is almost there.

“It’s almost there in their mind but not in the minds of junior doctors.”

He added: “An 11 per cent pay increase doesn’t compensate when you take away a 31 per cent average payment for working the unsocial hours. Anybody can do the maths on that.”

Speaking prior to the last planned walkout, one junior doctor based at King’s Mill said: “Due to Jeremy Hunt’s intransigence over the junior doctor’s contract, we, as members of the BMA feel that we have had no other option but to strike against a contract that we believe will affect patient safety and cause more doctors to leave the NHS.”

Meanwhile, Dr Mohita Damany, who works at Chesterfield Royal and is a BMA representative, said that if planned alterations to contracts get the green light, it will be unfair for doctors and potentially dangerous for patients.

She said: “This proposed contract is not safe and the reason for the strike is to ensure that all future contracts for doctors working in the NHS are safe for patients.

“It is not fair for the doctors and it is not safe for patients.”