NHS braced for doctors’ strike

England’s National Health Service is bracing itself for a strike by junior doctors, as today’s deadline for a deal is expected to be missed.

The dispute concerns new working hours which health secretary Jeremy Hunt had threatened to impose on England’s 45,000 junior doctors, which includes all doctors below consultant level.

They voted overwhelmingly to strike in November, concerned that government plans to create a ‘7-days-a-week health service’ would leave junior doctors dangerously overworked and endanger patient safety.

The Department of Health (DH) averted the first strike in December by agreeing to talks via mediation, but doctors’ representative organisation the British Medical Association (BMA) says there are still major obstacles.

The BMA says Hunt’s plan to scrap automatic annual pay rises for junior doctors, and relaxing rules about working long hours, are major bones of contention. Another issue is the plan to cut back overtime payments.

In a message posted on a junior doctors’ Facebook site at the weekend, Dr Johann Malawana, the chair of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee, said: “On Monday we will be hoping that the government will have taken on board and addressed our legitimate concerns. I am truly hoping that we will not be forced to once again test our unity and resolve. However, I know from the messages so many of you have sent, that should the need arise, we will stand together for ourselves and for the next generation of our colleagues.”

If no deal is reached, junior doctors will refuse to work on 13 January, only providing cover for medical emergencies in areas such as A&E and emergency surgery over 24 hours. Two further days of industrial action, in which doctors will not work in the 9am-5pm period, are also planned.

NHS Employers and the DH have indicated that they are prepared to make further compromises. However, without the promise of new funds to pay for increased services over the week and in weekends, government negotiators are severely limited in what they can offer.

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