Deepening junior doctor dispute leads BMA to confirm second strike WILL go ahead in Yorkshire

The Leeds junior doctor protest. Picture by Simon Hulme.The Leeds junior doctor protest. Picture by Simon Hulme.
The Leeds junior doctor protest. Picture by Simon Hulme.
Thousands of junior doctors across England WILL stage strike action on February 10, it has been announced.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has confirmed that its members will carry out their threat of a walk-out after Government’s “continued refusal to put reason before politics” – but the industrial action will not be as first proposed.

Juniors had initially proposed three strike dates comprising of a 24-hour reduced ‘emergency care only’ period of staffing on January 12, followed by a 48-hour ‘emergency care only’ walk-out on January 26 and finally a full withdrawal of labour for nine hours on February 10. The latter threatened to put huge pressure on the capacity of acute hospital trusts which are already battling intense winter demand.

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But the union has decided to step down next month’s plans for a full withdrawal of labour to a 24-hour ‘emergency care only’ period from February 10 at 8am, just over a week after suspending its 48-hour strike planned for January 26.

Despite the change in approach February’s walk-out is expected to result in the cancellation of thousands of non-urgent operations and appointments.

The dispute surrounds Government plans to impose a new contract on juniors by August. The main area of disagreement surrounds plans to cut the number of ‘unsocial’ weekend and evening hours for which junior doctors are given higher pay.

Dr Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctor committee chair, said that the Government’s position risks “souring relations with an entire generation of junior doctors” that are the “backbone of the NHS”.

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He said: “The Government’s entrenched position in refusing to recognise Saturday working as unsocial hours, together with its continued threat to impose a contract so fiercely resisted by junior doctors across England, leaves us with no alternative but to continue with industrial action.”

Dr Malawana added that juniors “deeply regret the disruption” its next phase of industrial action will cause and said the BMA has changed its plans to balance the need to send a message to Government while “minimising disruption”.

Dr Lucie Cocker, a BMA representative at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals, feels that the decision to change the form of strike action shows a “great deal of understanding for patients”.

“The Government is very, very unhappy to move on the key issues,” she said. “I think it’s already had a really detrimental affect on the way junior doctors see the Government and the Department of Health’s views of the NHS.

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“They don’t have our backs or work for us, they’re working at their own goals.”

Junior doctors on the picket line outside Leeds General Infirmary.Junior doctors on the picket line outside Leeds General Infirmary.
Junior doctors on the picket line outside Leeds General Infirmary.

The strikes come amid a dispute over the reform of junior doctor contracts. The Government’s last offer includes an 11 per cent basic pay rise. But this is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend for which juniors can claim extra pay for unsocial hours.

The BMA argues that the proposed changes make the contract “unsafe and unfair” on both doctors and patients as it would also see working hour safeguards scrapped. The Government says its changes are necessary in its aim for a “truly seven-day NHS” and claims that only one per cent of doctors would lose pay.

A spokesman for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) said: “Acas conciliation talks adjourned on Friday. We’re ready to help if the sides involved in the junior doctors’ dispute wish to use our services again.”

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A Department of Health spokesman said: “It is regrettable that the BMA is proceeding with further unnecessary industrial action.

“Sir David Dalton’s published summary of negotiations shows how close we are to agreeing a deal and demonstrates our strong desire to resolve the key substantive issue of pay for unsocial hours – as both parties agreed to do with ACAS back in November. As Sir David recommends, we want to settle this so that we can improve the standard of care for patients at weekends.”