Jeremy Hunt accused of 'brinkmanship' over junior doctor contracts
Jeremy Hunt has been accused by Labour of playing a game of "brinkmanship" over planned changes to the contracts of junior doctors as strike action looms.
The British Medical Association announced on Monday there will be three spells of industrial action in the coming weeks over the contract dispute.
And today the shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander launched a House of Commons assault on the Government's handling of negotiations.
She also suggested the proposed changes could be a precursor for a further NHS pay shake up in the future.
"It is a sad state of affairs when a New Year starts with the prospect of industrial action in the NHS," she said.
"Nobody wants strikes, not least the junior doctors, but they feel badly let down by a Health Secretary who seems to think contract negotiations are a game of brinkmanship.
"When will the Health Secretary admit that changing the definition of unsocial hours and associated rates of pay for junior doctors is a forerunner to changing a whole load of other NHS staffing contracts to save on the NHS pay bill?
"That's what all of this is really about, isn't it?"
Mr Hunt replied that that is not the case before jokingly wishing Ms Alexander "every success in retaining her post in the shadow cabinet".
"This is a difficult issue to solve but at least the country knows what the Government is trying to do," he said.
"You, on the other hand, have spent the last six months avoiding telling the country what you would do about these flawed contracts."
Ms Alexander said junior doctors do not need her "warm words", what they need is "action from the Secretary of State to stop the strikes and give patients the care they deserve".
Junior doctors are due to provide emergency care only from 8am on Tuesday January 12.
This will be followed by a 48-hour stoppage and the provision of emergency care only from 8am on Tuesday January 26.
Then on Wednesday February 10 there will be a full withdrawal of labour from 8am to 5pm.
The basis for the current round of negotiations has been the Government's offer from early November which included an 11% rise in basic pay for junior doctors.