Junior doctors suspend industrial action planned for next week

Junior doctors outside the Department of Health in Whitehall as they stage a protest as part of stri

Junior doctors outside the Department of Health in Whitehall as they stage a protest as part of strike action on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Junior doctors have suspended the industrial action planned for next week.

Last week the British Medical Association announced training medics would perform a series of strikes by withdrawing labour, including emergency care, for a week each month until the end of the year.

The first wave of strikes was supposed to start next Monday.

But concerns have been raised over patient safety. Earlier the doctors' regulator, the General Medical Council, warned that patients would 'suffer' given the scale of the action at such short notice.

The BMA has now said that, following discussion with NHS England, it will suspend next week's planned action.

But further strikes scheduled for October, November and December will still go ahead, the union said.

In a statement the BMA said that it had provided more than the legally required seven days notice, but NHS England has told the union it needs more time to plan for the escalated action.

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If the Government lifts the imposition of the contract, the planned strikes for late in the year will also be called off, the BMA said.

Dr Ellen McCourt, chairman of the BMA's junior doctors' committee, said: 'Patient safety remains doctors' primary concern which is why, following discussions with NHS England, the BMA has taken the decision to suspend next week's industrial action.

'While the BMA provided more than the required notice, we have taken this decision to ensure the NHS has the necessary time to prepare and to put in place contingency plans to protect patient safety.

'Our hospitals are chronically understaffed, our NHS is desperately underfunded - we have to listen to our colleagues when they tell us that they need more time to keep patients safe.

'Future action is still avoidable. The BMA has repeatedly said it will call off further action if the Government puts a halt to plans to force junior doctors to work under a contract they have rejected because they don't believe it is good for the future of patient care or the profession.

'I urge Jeremy Hunt to put patients first, listen to our concerns and end this dispute through talks.'

Downing Street welcomed news of the suspension of the walkout.

A Number 10 spokesman said: 'The Government's position has been that we didn't want the strike to take place. The BMA, as we have repeatedly said, should be putting patients first and not playing politics.

'It is extremely good news for patients that this strike has been suspended. We would urge junior doctors to suspend all other planned strikes.'

Professor Terence Stephenson, chairman of the General Medical Council, said: 'Last week, on behalf of a number of organisations, we asked the BMA to consider moving the start date of their industrial action.

'We are therefore pleased that they have agreed to do so. This delay will give hospitals and other providers more time to plan for reduced medical cover, thereby reducing the impact and potential harm to patients.'

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'The public will be relieved that the BMA has decided to call off the first phase of these unprecedented strikes, so this is welcome news.

'But if the BMA were really serious about patient safety, they would immediately cancel their remaining plans for industrial action which, as the GMC says, will only cause patients to suffer.'

The next action is scheduled for October 5, 6, 7, 10 and 11, November 14 to 18 and December 5 to 9, which will see junior doctors withdrawing from labour between the hours of 8am and 5pm, in the ongoing dispute over a controversial new contract for training medics.

The Government and British Medical Association (BMA) remain at loggerheads over the contract, which the Department of Health says will help to provide a seven-day NHS.

Six strikes have already taken place across England during the lengthy dispute, causing disruption to hundreds of thousands of patients who have had appointments and operations cancelled.

In May it looked as though a breakthrough had been reached in the dispute after both sides agreed to a new deal.

Then in July, the Government announced that it would impose a new contract after junior doctors and medical students voted to reject the contract brokered between health leaders and the BMA.

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