New contract negotiations must be meaningful to avoid future strikes, junior doctors say

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 01 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6524
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. 1BMJ Careers

Restarted negotiations on changes to the junior doctors’ contract in England must be meaningful for future industrial action to be avoided, junior doctors’ representatives have said.

Junior doctors across England were set to take part in industrial action short of a strike on Tuesday 1 December. But on Monday 30 November the BMA suspended strike action after talks with the government, facilitated by Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service).1

The BMA, NHS Employers, and the Department of Health agreed to restart negotiations after the government said it would temporarily suspend its plan to impose a new contract in August 2016.

The BMA now has an extended timeframe for starting any industrial action, by four weeks to 13 January 2016. It said that it hoped a new agreement could be reached before that date.

Rhiannon Harries, president of the Association of Surgeons in Training, said that junior doctors had “lost faith in the Department of Health throughout this dispute.” The priority for negotiations should be to ensure that a new contract was safe for patients and doctors, she said. “We hope that meaningful and fair negotiations can now take place in order to avoid the need for industrial action in the future,” she added.

Janis Burns, a junior clinical fellow at the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, said that the decision to resume negotiations was not a victory for any party. “The Department of Health has lost the trust of the profession, junior doctors have had to risk the reputation of our profession by threatening strike action, and, most importantly, patients have suffered,” she said.

Dagan Lonsdale, a research fellow in clinical pharmacology and intensive care medicine at St George’s Hospital, London, said that it was unfortunate that the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, had taken such an aggressive approach to negotiations. “He has been attacking doctors consistently over the past three months, and it has made doctors feel undervalued and demoralised,” he said. “I think that’s a big problem for negotiations going forward, because I think there is almost a complete lack of trust in the health secretary.”

He added, “It remains to be seen, for me, whether he will stick to a genuine plan for negotiations. I will wait to see an improved—and in fact a safe and fair—offer before I make any judgment.”

Burns said that doctors would need to work with the health department to achieve a satisfactory outcome but that this would be difficult, “given the past few months. She added, “Relationships need to be rebuilt, and so the process must be transparent. Let the BMA do its job over the next few weeks, and [let’s] keep everything crossed that we don’t find ourselves starting 2016 with industrial action.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6524


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