Junior doctors: Jeremy Hunt makes last-ditch bid to avoid strike after Yorkshire protest

Jeremy Hunt. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/ PA Wire.
Jeremy Hunt. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/ PA Wire.
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Jeremy Hunt has made a last-ditch offer to win over junior doctors ahead of a pivotal strike ballot of trainee clinicians.

The Health Secretary has written directly to every trainee in England setting out details of a proposed new contract that would see basic pay rise by 11 per cent and restrict hours to "make care safer for patients".

But doctors' union the British Medical Association (BMA) has accused the politician of "megaphone diplomacy" and continued to refuse to negotiate until Mr Hunt withdraws his threat to impose the new contract on medics without agreement in August 2016.

In his latest plea to junior doctors the Health Secretary compromised slightly on what are defined as "antisocial hours" - offering additional pay after 7pm on Saturdays rather than 10pm as previously noted.

Junior doctors would receive extra pay for any hours worked Monday to Sunday from 10pm to 7am, between 7pm and 10pm on Saturday and 7am to 10pm on Sunday.

At present any work done outside 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday is paid at a higher rate.

Junior doctors protest in Victoria Gardens, Leeds.

Junior doctors protest in Victoria Gardens, Leeds.

Under the new proposals, which come a week after a high profile protest in Leeds, the average working week will still be 48 hours, and the maximum will be reduced from 91 to 72.

The Health Secretary said his door was open to the BMA but blamed the union for refusing to return to the negotiating table.

Mr Hunt defended the new offer: "Any doctor working within the legal maximum safe hours will not be worse off. There are about 500 doctors who are working outside the legal safe hours and for those doctors we think the right thing to do is actually restrict the hours they work, so they are giving safe care for patients.

"One of the important things about the proposals we are making today is that they will make care safer for patients."

He claimed the revised proposals would see pay increasing for 75 per cent of doctors and also see workers rewarded for achievement and performance rather than receiving automatic annual pay rises.

But Dr Johann Malawana, chair of the BMA's junior doctors committee, condemned the way the offer had been made at the last moment ahead of the ballot on industrial action. The ballot opens tomorrow and will close on November 18.

"This is effectively megaphone diplomacy. The Government has decided at the 11th hour - they have had weeks, months, years to engage with us seriously - and on the last night before a ballot is opened they have decided to put out a contract proposal.

"That tells you what this Government is trying to actually achieve."

He said Mr Hunt was being "unfair" and added "it says a lot about how the Secretary of State has handled this over the last three months".

The BMA has told the Government it will not return to the negotiating table until the threat to impose the new contract was withdrawn, unsocial hours were "properly recognised" as premium time and there was no disadvantage to those working unsocial hours, taking parental leave or working less than full time compared to the current system.

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