Striking junior doctors will return to work in emergency, says BMA

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 29 March 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i1785
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. BMJ Careers
  1. arimmer{at}

Junior doctors taking full strike action would return to work in the case of a national emergency, the chair of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee has said.

The association announced on 23 March that industrial action by junior doctors scheduled for 26 April would change from 48 hour emergency care only to a full withdrawal of labour.1 It said that junior doctors would withdraw all labour from 8 am to 5 pm on Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 April.

Commenting on the action, Johann Malawana, chair of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee, said that, if a national emergency arose during the action, “junior doctors would return to work without question straight away.”

The BMA has said that the decision to escalate action came after the government continued to “refuse to step back” from its decision to impose a new contract on junior doctors in England from August this year.

The next action, which is due to start at 8 am on Wednesday 6 April and end at 8 am on Friday 8 April, will involve junior doctors providing emergency care.

In a statement, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges called on both sides in the dispute to “step back from the brink by suspending imposition of the contract and the all-out strike and urge a return to negotiations.”

Elsewhere, over 1200 doctors and NHS staff have written to the prime minister, David Cameron, urging him to withdraw plans to impose a new contract. “This prolonged dispute is damaging our NHS, our patients and our profession,” the letter said.

Malawana said that industrial action could be averted if the government agreed to resume negotiations on a new contract. “The real way to avoid this is simply to offer us the ability to negotiate,” he said. “They can make this go away in minutes by simply being willing to talk to junior doctors.”

Although junior doctors would not be working during the strike action, Malawana said that other healthcare professionals would maintain services. “There are thousands of consultants and GPs and allied health professionals who will all be there to provide services,” he said, adding, “We’ve given the NHS 31 days’ notice before the action goes ahead. It’s really now up to the government and the NHS to put in the contingencies to do this.”

He said that, in forcing junior doctors to take such unprecedented action, the government would be sending a message that it did not care about the NHS.

“If [the government] pushes junior doctors to that form of action, because there is nothing else we can do, then effectively the secretary of state is saying that, as far as the government is concerned, they don’t care about the NHS, they don’t care about patient safety—all they care about is proving a point.”


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