Junior doctors across the country look set to stage walk outs at NHS hospitals as part of a national contract dispute.
Despite ongoing talks between the British Medical Association (BMA) and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt through mediation service Acas to avoid the first of three days of industrial action taking place on Tuesday, a 24-hour period of 'emergency care only' provision looks set to go ahead from 8am.
The move will likely result in the postponement of some planned scans, operations and appointments tomorrow as only around one-third of juniors will be working to provide the same level of service as they would offer on Christmas Day.
If today's negotiations prove unsuccessful, tomorrow's day of action will be followed by full nine-hour strikes from 8am on December 8 and 16, which will result in more disruption and for more postponements.
The dispute follows the breakdown in talks between the BMA and the Government over the structure of a new contract for juniors. The row climaxed with a ballot of more than 37,000 junior doctors in England, in which more than 99 per cent of respondents voted in favour of industrial action short of a strike and 98 per cent voted for full strike action.
The Health Secretary has promised an 11 per cent rise in basic pay, while pledging to create a seven-day NHS by deeming Monday to Friday, from 7am to 10pm, and Saturday, from 7am to 7pm, normal working hours. Currently any work done outside 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday is paid at a higher rate. Flexible pay premiums would also be applied to more specialities than just general practice and A&E care, with acute medical ward staff and psychiatrists benefiting.
The BMA argues that the proposed changes scrap safeguards to prevent them working excessive hours and don't "properly recognise" working unsocial hours, adding that the changes could see juniors working longer hours eventually for less pay after pay protection elements expire. The doctors' union has also called on Mr Hunt to drop the threat that the contract will be imposed on junior doctors regardless from August 2016.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is poised to make a statement in the House of Commons today at 3.30pm on the outcome of talks with the BMA.
Phil Atkinson, junior doctor from Bramhope, Leeds, working in anaesthetics.
Let’s make it clear - an 11 per cent rise in basic pay is still a pay cut.
I have used the Government’s own calculator and seen that as an anaesthetic registrar my pay will remain the same.
BUT it will now have a £7,076 pay protection element that will expire in July 2019. I will not be a consultant in July 2019. I will lose 11.5 per cent of my pay.
But that’s not the problem. It’s the medical students. It’s the doctors of tomorrow. They have no pay protection. They are going to lose out badly. They are about to graduate with up to £60,000 of debt and have their pay slashed over the next period of their training.
If we agree to 7am to 7pm on a Saturday being plain time the Department of Health will come after all the other health care professionals next. If we agree to this then our nursing colleagues will suffer next.
In fairness there are some very positive aspects to the new proposals. They have said they will protect those taking time out for research and fellowships, pay is linked to seniority and responsibility and we will get time owing or overtime pay for working late.
I have read the 32 page contract. I encourage others to do the same. I think we are close to being able to negotiate with the Government but the BMA has asked for some simple assurances - they still haven’t been met.
One week ago I stood shoulder to shoulder with 3,000 junior doctors, consultants, GPs, medical students, nursing staff and other allied health care professionals in Victoria Gardens to oppose what I believe is an unsafe and unfair contract.
I am not about to abandon the next generation of medical professionals to a significant pay cut because of self-interest.
We assembled because we believe in protecting our patients and the future of the NHS.
The Government needs to drop its threat of imposition, give us the guarantees on hours safeguarding that we need so that the BMA can come back to the negotiating table and work to create a contract that is safe for patients and fair on doctors.
So currently, it is with a heavy heart but a clear conscience that I am still voting yes to industrial action.