Belfast Telegraph

Health Minister Simon Hamilton has 'no desire' to impose junior doctors' contract on Northern Ireland doctors

The junior doctors' contract forced through in England by Jeremy Hunt amid dispute

By Claire Williamson and PA

Northern Ireland's health minister has said he has "no desire" to impose the new junior doctor contract here which is set to be introduced in England.

The new contract is set to be imposed on junior doctors in England after negotiations with the British Medical Association failed.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt addressed the Commons outlining how talks with the British Medical Association (BMA) have ended in a stalemate.

The Government drafted in Sir David Dalton - chief executive of Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust - to broker a deal but the deadlock could not be broken.

The news came as junior doctors concluded a second 24-hour strike in their long-running dispute.

Junior doctors in Northern Ireland did not strike, although they showed support for those in England who did.

The major sticking point in the dispute is over weekend pay and whether Saturday should be largely classed as a normal working day.

Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attracts a premium rate of pay for junior doctors.

But the Government wants the Saturday day shift to be paid at a normal rate in return for a hike in basic pay.

In a statement Mr Hamilton said he had "no desire" to impose a contract on junior doctors here and said he wants junior doctors in Northern Ireland to "feel valued".

He said: "I am disappointed that a negotiated settlement on a new contract for junior doctors has been unable to be reached.

“I continue to believe that a negotiated settlement is the best way forward, and I reiterate my long held view that I have no desire to impose a contract on Junior Doctors in Northern Ireland.

“I have asked my officials to continue to engage in discussions with local BMA representatives with a view to developing an agreed way forward for Northern Ireland.  I trust that we can work on a replacement for a contract which has been recognised as not fit for purpose and find a solution that is tailored to Northern Ireland's needs, is not punitive to local taxpayers and, most importantly, ensures a safe service for patients.

“I want Northern Ireland to be recognised as a place where junior doctors feel valued and where they can have a rewarding career.”

In response to Mr Hunt's decision the British Medical Association said it would "consider all options open to us".

Dr Johann Malawana, the BMA's junior doctor committee chairman, said: "The decision to impose a contract is a sign of total failure on the Government's part."

He accused Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of "ploughing ahead with proposals that are fundamentally unfair" and warned that it had no plans just to accept the contract.

He said: "The Government's shambolic handling of this process from start to finish has totally alienated a generation of junior doctors - the hospital doctors and GPs of the future, and there is a real risk that some will vote with their feet.

"Our message to the Government is clear - junior doctors cannot and will not accept a contract that is bad for the future of patient care, the profession and the NHS as a whole, and we will consider all options open to us."

Mr Hunt told MPs that if just one doctor works one hour over the maximum shift rate, it can trigger a 66% pay rise for all doctors on that rota.

He said there was a "patent unfairness" to the existing contract but progress in reforming it had been "slow".

He said the Government's chief negotiator Sir David Dalton - who was drafted in to broker a deal - had told him a "negotiated solution is not realistically possible" with the BMA.

Mr Hunt added that with the backing of major NHS groups including NHS Employers and NHS England, Sir David "has asked me to end the uncertainty for the service by proceeding with the introduction of a new contract that he and his colleagues consider both safer for patients and reasonable for junior doctors.

"I have therefore today decided to do that."

Mr Hunt said the new contract will mean an increase in basic salary of 13.5% - higher than the previously stated 11% - and that three quarters of doctors will see their take-home pay increase.

No doctor working contracted hours would see a pay cut.

Furthermore, the new contract would cut the maximum number of hours worked every week by junior doctors from 91 to 72.

The maximum number of consecutive nights a doctor can work will also be cut from seven to four, while the maximum number of long days will also be reduced from seven to five.

No doctor will ever be rostered subsequent weekends, Mr Hunt added.

Under the new contract, 7am to 5pm on Saturdays will be regarded as a normal working day.

Doctors working one in four or more Saturdays will receive a pay premium of 30%. Mr Hunt said this was higher on average than that available for nurses, midwives, paramedics, fire officers and police officers.

Mr Hunt added: "While I understand that this process has generated considerable dismay among junior doctors, I believe that the new contract we are introducing - shaped by David Dalton and with over 90% of measures agreed by the BMA - is one that, in time, can command the confidence of both the workforce and their employers."

He said there was an "overwhelming consensus" that the standard of weekend services is "too low with insufficient senior clinical decision makers.

Mr Hunt also announced a review to examine junior doctors' morale, quality of life and wellbeing.

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