Doctors' chiefs and Government hold fresh talks over contract impasse
Doctors' leaders and the Government have returned to the negotiating table in a bid to break the deadlock over the controversial contract for junior medics.
The British Medical Association (BMA) and Department of Health officials are holding fresh talks at the conciliation service Acas.
The move comes after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt agreed to a five-day pause in the imposition of the new junior doctors' contract.
Around 90% of the contract had previously been agreed, but the main bone of contention was over whether Saturdays should attract extra "unsocial" payments, among other issues.
Dr Johann Malawana, chairman of the BMA's junior doctors committee, said he hoped "real progress can now be made to ending this dispute".
But he said that any contract - whether agreed or not - should be put to a referendum of junior doctors.
The Department of Health (DoH) has once again turn to hospital boss Sir David Dalton to lead the Government's negotiations.
In a statement, the DoH said it looked forward to resuming talks, adding: "T he Secretary of State will suspend the introduction of the new contract for a five-day period to facilitate this.
"We are very pleased that Sir David Dalton, a highly respected independent NHS leader, will be returning to lead the Government's negotiating team on the small number of outstanding issues that separated both parties in February."
Dr Malawana wrote on Twitter that he would " welcome" working with Sir David again and would "try and find a solution for junior doctors".
He added: "Will be tough week but juniors want talks."
Mr Hunt said on Thursday that he wanted "written agreement" from the BMA's junior doctors committee that discussions over the contentious issue of unsocial hours and Saturday pay would be held in "good faith".
The agreement to resume talks f ollows a wave of industrial action launched by junior doctors in recent months, which saw thousands of operations cancelled after negotiations reached an impasse, with Mr Hunt threatening to impose the controversial contract.
The resumption of negotiations has been brokered by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in an effort to end the dispute.
Mr Hunt has insisted that d iscussions should not concern the issues already agreed but should focus instead on outstanding contractual issues.
Junior doctors stopped providing emergency care for the first time in NHS history during their most recent walkout, which went on for two days last week.
More than 125,000 appointments and operations were cancelled and will need to be rearranged, on top of almost 25,000 procedures cancelled during previous action.
The dispute began when the Government took steps to introduce its manifesto commitment of a seven-day NHS.
Mr Hunt wants to change what constitutes "unsocial" hours for which junior doctors can claim extra pay, turning 7am to 5pm on Saturday into a normal working day. Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay for junior doctors.
The Government proposed to offset this change with a hike in basic pay of 13.5%, but the BMA rejected these plans.
The imposed contract, due to come into force in August, will still allow premium rates for Saturday evenings and all of Sunday.
Speaking to the Health Select Committee, Mr Hunt said: "There has been too much focus on the junior doctors' contract, it is one of the things that we need to change in order to have a seven-day NHS, but it is only one of the things.
"There are lots of other things we need to do in terms of seven-day diagnostic tests, in terms of consultant cover.
"It has obviously attracted a lot of attention in terms of reaching a solution with the BMA which I think is a great shame because I think that the trusts where we do have a seven-day NHS are not just trusts that are safer for patients but actually have higher morale for doctors."
SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford stated: "They've obviously managed to do that on the contract as it is."
Mr Hunt responded: "In one or two places but this is something we want to offer consistently across the whole NHS."