BMA to ballot junior doctors on industrial action
Junior doctors in England are to be balloted for industrial action, the British Medical Association has said.
The BMA junior doctors committee said the ballot is being held because the Government wants to impose new terms and conditions on trainees' contracts from August. They described the reforms as "unsafe and unfair".
Trainee doctors in Scotland and Wales will not be balloted because they will not have to face new contracts.
Dr Johann Malawana, the new leader of the BMA junior doctors committee, described the decision as "a reflection of the anger felt by the thousands of junior doctors who have told us that the Government's position is not acceptable".
He accused the Government of riding "roughshod" over concerns about whether the contracts can protect patient safety while also being fair to both junior doctors and the health service as a whole.
He called for proper negotiation, claiming: "The contract they want to impose will remove vital protections on safe working patterns, devalue evening and weekend work, and make specialities such as emergency medicine and general practice less attractive even though the NHS is already struggling to recruit and retain doctors to these areas of medicine.
"We remain committed to agreeing a contract that protects against junior doctors routinely working long hours, delivers a fair system of pay and does not disadvantage those in flexible working and we will not stand idly by as the Government imposes a contract that undermines that.
"We've already seen reports of high numbers of doctors considering leaving the NHS to work abroad. These figures should serve as a serious wake up call to the Government that there is a real risk that junior doctors will speak with their feet. To lose a large swathe of doctors in the early stages of their careers would be a disaster for the NHS."
Talks over the issue stalled last October and the junior doctors committee said last month that it was not set to return to the negotiating table.
Critics say the new contract involves pay cuts of up to 30%, with overtime rates scrapped for work between 7am and 10pm on every day except Sunday.
The type and scale of industrial action is still to be decided.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "It's disappointing that the junior doctors' committee has decided to ballot for industrial action in advance of receiving a formal offer from the Government.
"We urge the BMA to reconsider this decision and come back to the table because there is a great deal to discuss about how we reward the profession.
"We are not cutting the paybill for junior doctors, and want to see their basic pay go up just as average earnings are maintained.
"We really value the work and commitment of junior doctors, but their current contract is outdated and unfair - the best way of changing that is negotiation."
The BMA is waiting on an announcement from the Northern Ireland Government before reviewing the situation there.
NHS Employers c hief executive Danny Mortimer suggested that Dr Malawana should try "to find a path with us through this difficult situation".
Pledging that his organisation would "do everything" it could to cooperate during talks, Mr Mortimer said: "We understand the great concern of junior doctors and are working hard to answer their questions. We are committed to talks to address doctors' concerns.
"We know the importance of having an ongoing relationship between employers and trade unions. Imposing a contract is not the preferred solution of any party - the door is still open for the BMA to come back to the negotiating table and we urge them to do so."