Junior doctors in Yorkshire have hailed the suspension of strikes as a “great step forward” although the move came too late to avoid hospital disruption.
Hundreds of outpatient clinics and planned operations have been cancelled across the region today, with hospital trusts having to postpone some services ahead of the 11th hour agreement between Government and the British Medical Association.
Around 100 non-urgent procedures are being rescheduled by Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, while Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust has had to cancel 11 per cent of appointments and seven per cent of non-urgent procedures.
Attendance to some routine operations and clinics was expected to be affected in Leeds after around 800 letters were sent to patients warning that their appointments were at risk if Tuesday’s strike went ahead.
The temporary agreement was reached on last night between Government, the British Medical Association (BMA) and NHS Employers, which means three days of strikes planned for December will not go ahead.
The 24-hour ‘emergency care only’ stint planned to start today at 8am was dropped, together with two full strikes organised for December 8 and 16.
The move is a milestone in a three-year dispute over contractual changes that saw talks between the Government and the BMA break down earlier this year.
Phil Atkinson, a West Yorkshire junior doctor who helped to organise the Leeds junior doctor protest in October, described the agreement as “just the first of many” positive steps.
He said: “Thanks to mediation from ACAS the BMA will now begin true negotiations with the Government about the contracts. The strikes are suspended. This isn’t over. Not by a long shot. But this is a great step forward for doctors and patients.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had told MPs that NHS England estimated that up to 20,000 operations would have been cancelled if all three strikes went ahead.
Since strike action was suspended, trusts regionally have issued pledges to reschedule clinics and procedures promptly. At Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust only a handful of appointments have been postponed, while Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (STH) is rescheduling around 70 non-urgent procedures.
With all parties back around the negotiation table, the Government has temporarily suspended its threat to impose a contract on junior doctors but that will be withdrawn and the BMA could still strike if a final settlement is not reached by January 13 at 5pm.
In a memorandum of understanding drafted up by all parties, it was agreed there was a need to “improve access to seven-day services” in the NHS.
The basis for negotiations is the Government’s offer from early November, which included an 11 per cent rise in basic pay and the redefinition of “unsocial” hours.
Mr Hunt claims just one per cent of doctors would lose pay under the deal, stating that change was needed for a seven-day NHS.
The BMA has criticised the plan to scrap working hour safeguards and said the increase in basic pay is misleading due to the changes to pay for unsocial hours.