The Health Secretary of England has threatened to impose a new contract on junior doctors, causing them to plan a series of strikes starting next Tuesday.
Jeremy Hunt, the English Secretary of State for Health since September 2012, has been in talks with representatives from the British Medical Association (BMA) and NHS Employers since September. A new contract proposed last year would change a number of points for junior doctors, including their pay rate.
In December, after both parties couldn’t come to an agreement, doctors voted overwhelmingly to strike, but cancelled the strike at the last minute after Hunt agreed to continue talks through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). Though these talks have been going on for three weeks, and a number of issues have been resolved, junior doctors are still upset about their pay.
We had made good progress in talks, resolving 15 of the 16 issues put forward by the union – everything apart from weekend pay.
Hunt, citing patient safety and quality care delivery by the National Health Service (NHS), is disappointed in the BMA, the doctors union, that the talks have not progressed. The BMA had given Monday as the deadline for ministers to cede on the key points, or face a series of strikes.
After weeks of further negotiations, it is clear that the government is still not taking junior doctors’ concerns seriously. […] We sincerely regret the disruption that industrial action will cause, but junior doctors have been left with no option. It is because the government’s proposals would be bad for patient care as well as junior doctors in the long term that we are taking this stand.
The series of strikes will start 8am Tuesday 12th January, with junior doctors providing only emergency care for 24 hours. If negotiations are not resolved after that, the strikes will continue with 48 hours of junior doctors providing only emergency care starting at 8am 26th January, and will culminate in a complete walk-out on February 10th. This would be the first walk-out in NHS history, and the first series of strikes in four decades.
The sticking point in these negotiations is the exchange of less hours counted as overtime for an 11% basic pay rate. Doctors argue that while this seems to help overall, reducing the hours during which they can receive overtime is bad for the doctors and the patients in the long term. Overtime hours are currently between 7pm and 7am Monday though Friday, and all day on Saturday and Sunday. The proposed change would add 3 more hours of basic pay to the weekdays, making overtime hours 10pm to 7am, and would add Saturday as a basic pay day until 7pm.
Both sides have agreed to continue negotiations.