Junior Doctors and Ministers Agree to Fresh Talks on Contract

The ongoing dispute between junior doctors and the government has been put on ‘pause’ as both sides have agreed to come back to the negotiating table.

The government has agreed to hold off on imposition of the new junior doctors contract for five days – starting from Monday – in order to allow new talks to begin. The British Medical Association (BMA) has in turn also agreed to not call any further strikes for the same period of time.

The bitter dispute has been ongoing for eight months and resulted in a total of five walkouts, the most recent two being an all-out strike including emergency services. The strikes have thought to caused huge amounts of disruption to elective services with cancellations of thousands of planned operations.

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(Photo courtesy of Ovia Nagulendram)

A plea came from Professor Dame Sue Bailey, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, asking both sides to come back to the table and start negotiations again. In response, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, wrote to the Academy on Thursday expressing his willingness to put the contract on hold for a week if the BMA agree to discuss Saturday pay, the major point causing anger amongst juniors doctors. The resulting 5-day pause in the feud brings hope that fresh talks will resolve the ongoing issues with the new contract.

The government have been pushing for Saturday to be reclassified as a normal working day, but the BMA are fighting to keep premium pay entitlement for junior doctors on a Saturday, as is the case currently.

Both sides have been stuck in a stalemate since the dispute began as the BMA refuse to come back to negotiations unless the government lifted the threat imposition. Meanwhile the government have not agreed to back down unless the union are willing to discuss Saturday pay.

Chair of the BMA, Dr Johann Malawana, said that junior doctors have been wanting to negotiate and urging the government to re-enter talks. He believes that fresh talks, with an open mind, are critical to finding a way forward on all outstanding issues – which are not just about pay.

The negotiations are thought to once again be overseen by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). It remains to be seen whether the two sides can come to an agreement but the hope is that the dispute will soon be resolved.

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