The junior doctor dispute: What is next for Yorkshire's young clinicians?

Junior doctors protest in Victoria Gardens, Leeds.
Junior doctors protest in Victoria Gardens, Leeds.
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Around 3,000 junior doctors made their collective point in the dispute over proposed contractual changes last week - but what happens next?

As the dust settles on a powerful protest, the thousands of junior doctors in Yorkshire will be hoping that their voices have been heard by the Government.

Junior doctors protest in Victoria Gardens, Leeds.

Junior doctors protest in Victoria Gardens, Leeds.

And it appears policy makers are on the back foot after several engagement events over the junior doctor contract were scrapped and protests, including one attended by around 20,000 London clinicians, replaced them.

The dispute between the Government and doctors' union the British Medical Association (BMA) surrounds fears that caps on the number of hours worked by young doctors could be scrapped and that what are termed as “unsociable hours” will be changed to mean up to 30 per cent pay cuts for some staff who work more antisocial hours in areas like A&E.

At present junior doctors are paid “standard” time for working 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday and extra for antisocial hours but Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to reclassify them to 7am to 10pm Monday to Friday and 7am to 7pm on Saturday.

The BMA argues the changes will mean doctors could be forced to work longer shifts – jeopardising patient safety – as existing safeguards which limit their hours are removed.

Mr Hunt has tried to reassure doctors that the contract changes, which could be imposed in August 2016, are not "cost-cutting" measures and are in the interests of a seven-day NHS.

Here's what is on the horizon for junior doctors in the White Rose.

The potential for an unprecedented strike

The BMA will send out ballot papers to around 40,000 junior doctors this week after its junior doctor committee voted to ballot members over industrial action last month.

The move, which came after the doctors' union decided not to re-enter contract negotiations with the Government in September, could lead to a strike.

West Yorkshire junior doctors that we have spoken to have backed the potential for industrial action as long as it is handled so that urgent operations and units such as A&E remain unaffected while routine procedures and appointments face disruption.

BMA members could opt to strike or stop short of that through action like a working rule, where employees do no more than the minimum required by their contracts.

The ballot opens on Thursday and will close on November 18.

Yorkshire doctors to wait on national movement

Organisers of the Leeds junior doctor protest have expressed their desire to get back to business in the region's hospitals while keeping an eye on the broader picture.

A meeting of the BMA's Yorkshire junior doctor committee is due to take place this week to discuss the next steps on a local level.

Tit-for-tat debate is set to rumble on

The back and forth battle between Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the BMA's junior doctor committee chair Dr Johann Malawana shows no signs of slowing down.

In his latest move, Mr Hunt has addressed junior doctors directly setting out details of a proposed new contract that would see basic pay rise by 11 per cent and restrict hours to "make care safer for patients".

He made slight concessions on what are termed as unsociable hours and assured doctors that no junior doctor working within current limits will receive a pay cut compared to their current contract.

The move was slammed by the BMA, which accused Mr Hunt of "megaphone diplomacy" and continued to refuse to negotiate until Mr Hunt withdraws his threat to impose the new contract on medics without agreement in August 2016.

Dr Malawana said: "The Government has decided at the 11th hour - they have had weeks, months, years to engage with us seriously - and on the last night before a ballot is opened they have decided to put out a contract proposal."

Prior to that Mr Hunt, while writing for the Telegraph this week, urged junior doctors to step back from the "barricades" and vote against strike action.

He also accused the BMA of attempting to "engineer a conflict" between patients and doctors.

It comes after Dr Malawana accused the Health Secretary of making the Government "impossible to trust" following conflicting statements made last week.

In a letter to the BMA Mr Hunt was quoted as saying that no junior doctors would see their pay cut before he told BBC Breakfast that a "small minority" who worked over 56 hours would see their pay fall.

One thing seems certain, this war of words looks set to continue.

Click here to read about the five things we learned from the Leeds junior doctor protest.