Talks aimed at averting strikes by junior doctors have resumed as the British Medical Association (BMA) and Government aim to reach agreement over pay and working hours.
Doctors are poised to take action over three days, providing emergency care only for 24 hours from 8am on Tuesday followed by full walkouts from 8am to 5pm on December 8 and 16.
The move would cause mass disruption to the NHS, with hospitals forced to cancel outpatient clinics and non-urgent operations.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) is hosting talks between the Department of Health, NHS Employers and the BMA for a third day in a bid to avoid the strikes.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt previously refused to agree to discussions unless BMA officials came to the negotiating table first, but changed his mind on Wednesday when he told BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter “any talks are better than strikes”.
The BMA had insisted talks must go through Acas after 98 per cent of more than 37,000 doctors balloted over strike action said they were in favour.
Dr Cliff Mann, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said he understood the concerns of junior doctors but warned against any action that could put patients in jeopardy.
A new contract is set to be imposed from next summer on doctors working up to consultant level.
Mr Hunt previously tried to avert strikes with a fresh deal, including an 11 per cent rise in basic pay.
This is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend that junior doctors can claim extra pay for “unsocial” hours.
Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay.
Under the new plans, a higher rate would run from 10pm to 7am Monday to Friday, and from 7pm on Saturday evenings - a concession on the previous 10pm.
Mr Hunt argues that under the new deal, just 1% of doctors would lose pay and those would be limited to doctors working too many hours already.
The BMA has said the increase in basic pay is misleading due to the changes to pay for unsocial hours.
It also has other concerns over flexible pay plans for some specialities.