Watch: Norman Lamb and Jeremy Hunt clash in the Commons over junior doctor strikes

General Election 2015 Hustings at Cromer Parish church, local candidate Norman Lamb (Lib Dem).Pictur

General Election 2015 Hustings at Cromer Parish church, local candidate Norman Lamb (Lib Dem).Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Norfolk MP Norman Lamb defended his decision to sign a cross-party letter calling for the new junior doctor contract to be tested in certain areas in order to avoid a strike this week.

The former coalition health minister said the opportunity was still open to health secretary Jeremy Hunt during an urgent question in the House of Commons. But Mr Hunt said the plan would essentially shelve seven-day services for years.

Liberal Democrat Mr Lamb said: 'It's because I have very real anxieties about the impact on patients of a strike involving emergency services, not political opportunism, that I signed that letter.

'And I would urge you even at this 11th hour to meet with all of us to discuss this in a reasonable and rational way.

'We all have a responsibility ultimately to try to avert this strike.'

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Mr Hunt replied: 'I absolutely agree with that but I also gently say to you, if that was the case, you have got my mobile phone (number), you could have contacted me, it didn't need to be the Sunday Times which was the first place that I saw of your proposal.

'And frankly, that was not the way, if they were genuinely serious about brokering a deal, to go about it.'

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He added: 'Your proposal to change the Government's plans into pilots, as you know perfectly well, would basically mean that seven-day care will get kicked into the long grass and will probably not happen. That would be wrong.'

Mr Hunt made a last-ditch appeal to junior doctors to provide emergency care when they go out on strike as he insisted the NHS is 'busting a gut' to make sure patients are kept safe during the industrial action.

Junior doctors at hospitals across England are due to undertake their first full walkout in NHS history on Tuesday and Wednesday between the hours of 8am and 5pm as the dispute over their new contract escalates.

The Health Secretary has urged them to think again as Labour's Heidi Alexander described the first day of the strike as 'one of the saddest days in the history of the NHS'.

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