Doctors begin mulling whether to resume talks with Hunt over contracts

Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt
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Junior doctors are meeting to discuss whether to restart talks with the Government over a proposed new contract.

The British Medical Association (BMA) confirmed its Junior Doctors Committee (JDC) will convene after the Department of Health agreed to hear medics’ concerns.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Thursday that he wanted “written agreement” from the committee that discussions over the contentious issue of unsocial hours and Saturday pay would be held in “good faith”.

He added that he was seeking assurances by the end of Saturday that the union would negotiate “constructively” on the issue.

The BMA agreed to temporarily suspend planned industrial action in an attempt to thrash out a compromise with ministers.

It follows a wave of disruptive industrial action launched by junior doctors in recent months, which saw thousands of operations cancelled after negotiations reached an impasse.

During an interview with Sky News on Thursday, Mr Hunt said: “I hope the BMA will take up the offer to talk constructively and we’re seeking assurances by close of the day on Saturday that the BMA will negotiate constructively on the outstanding issues.”

Discussions should not concern 90% of the issues already agreed, Mr Hunt wrote in a letter to Academy of Medical Royal Colleges chairwoman Professor Dame Sue Bailey, but should focus instead on outstanding contractual issues.

Junior doctors stopped providing emergency care for the first time in NHS history during their most recent walkout, which went on for two days last week.

More than 125,000 appointments and operations were cancelled and will need to be rearranged, on top of almost 25,000 procedures cancelled during previous action.

JDC chairman Dr Johann Malawana said they are keen to restart talks with an “open mind”.

A BMA spokeswoman added: “Junior doctors have said since the outset that they want to reach a negotiated agreement, and have repeatedly urged the Government to re-enter talks.

“The BMA has agreed to temporarily suspend further industrial action so that talks can resume.

“It is critical to find a way forward on all the outstanding issues - which are more than just pay - and we hope that a new offer is made that can break the impasse.”

The dispute began when the Government took steps to introduce its manifesto commitment of a seven-day NHS.

Mr Hunt wants to change what constitutes “unsocial” hours for which junior doctors can claim extra pay, turning 7am to 5pm on Saturday into a normal working day.

Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay for junior doctors.

Despite the Government offsetting this change with a hike in basic pay of 13.5%, it has proved to be a sticking point with the BMA.

The imposed contract, due to come into force in August, will still allow premium rates for Saturday evenings and all of Sunday.