Talks due to resume over junior doctors contract dispute
Talks are to resume in a bid to find a resolution to a bitter dispute between doctors and the Government over a new contract.
Officials from NHS Employers, the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Government will join representatives from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) for talks on Thursday and Friday.
The BMA has suspended a 48-hour strike planned for January 26, saying it wanted to give NHS trusts as much notice as possible to avoid disruption to patients.
But the BMA said "significant progress" still needs to be made to avoid a strike planned for February 10, when full labour by junior doctors, including emergency care cover, is due to be withdrawn.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".
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the main sticking point is the issue of weekend pay, in particular whether Saturdays can be classed as part of the normal working week.
Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay.
Under the new contract, junior doctors would receive time-and-a-half for any hours worked Monday to Sunday between 10pm and 7am, and time-and-a-third for any hours worked between 7pm and 10pm on Saturdays and 7am and 10pm on Sundays.
Junior doctors would also receive on-call availability allowances, ranging from 2% to 6% of basic pay, as well as payment for work undertaken as a result of being on-call.
The move to cut weekend pay is offset by an 11% rise in basic pay for junior doctors.
The BMA has so far rejected the offer, saying there is still some way to go to agree boundaries around premium pay.
It said there is also still disagreement over "punitive" rates for exceeding working time regulations.
A strike on January 12 led to around 4,000 operations and procedures being cancelled alongside thousands more routine appointments.
Suspended strike action in November also led to the cancellation of thousands of operations, procedures and appointments.