Junior doctors' 48-hour strike suspended amid fresh talks
A 48-hour strike by junior doctors has been suspended as talks continue with the Government over a new contract.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said it wanted to give NHS trusts as much notice as possible to avoid disruption to patients.
Thousands of operations and procedures would have been affected by the strike on January 26, when doctors were due to provide emergency care only.
But the BMA said "significant progress" still needed to be made to avoid a strike planned for February 10, when full labour, including emergency care cover, is due to be withdrawn.
It said " differences still exist between the BMA and the Government on key areas, including the protection of patient safety and doctors' working lives, and the recognition of unsocial hours".
Talks between Government officials, NHS employers and the BMA have been scheduled at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) for this Thursday and Friday.
The BMA's junior doctor committee chairman Dr Johann Malawana said the strike held on January 12 had sent a "clear message" to the Government.
He said: "The BMA's aim has always been to deliver a safe, fair junior doctor contract through negotiated agreement.
"Following junior doctors' clear message to the Government during last week's action, our focus is now on building on early progress made in the current set of talks.
"On this basis, the BMA has today taken the decision to suspend the industrial action planned for January 26-28, thereby giving trusts as much notice as possible so as to avoid disruption to patients.
"It is important to be clear, however, that differences still exist between the BMA and the Government on key areas, including the protection of patient safety and doctors' working lives, and the recognition of unsocial hours.
"Significant, concrete progress will need to be made if future action, currently planned for February 10, is to be averted."
On Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron said the Government has not ruled out imposing its new contract on junior doctors if talks do not resolve the dispute.
He said giving up the option of imposing a contract would effectively hand a "veto" to the BMA over the future development of the NHS.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: " The strike that took place last week was unnecessary while talks are ongoing, so it's extremely welcome news that the BMA has suspended next week's action, though as it stands emergency care will still be withdrawn in February.
"In the end, the Government and junior doctors want to do the same thing by improving patient care at weekends - and we look forward to further constructive discussions."
Mr Cameron welcomed the suspension of the strike and Downing Street said talks should continue in an effort to find a solution.
The Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister welcomes the announcement from the BMA that they will be suspending next week's planned junior doctors' strike.
"We have always been clear that we want to engage with the BMA to find a solution and it is important now that we continue to all sit around the table in a constructive spirit and work to find a solution."
Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander said: "The decision to suspend next week's industrial action will undoubtedly come as a relief to many patients and NHS staff.
"Nobody wanted to see industrial action take place, not least junior doctors. However, Jeremy Hunt's dismal handling of these negotiations left many junior doctors feeling like they had no other way of getting their point across.
"The imperative now must be for Jeremy Hunt to listen to the concerns of junior doctors and reach a negotiated settlement."
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: "This is a welcome decision by the BMA.
"We know from last week the disruption that industrial action has on patients, their families and carers as appointments and clinics are postponed or delayed.
"We will continue to work with the BMA over the coming days and hope that a resolution can be reached."