Jeremy Hunt: Officials 'busting a gut' to keep A&E units open if doctors strike
Health officials are "busting a gut" to ensure A&E departments will function if junior doctors carry out strike action next month, Jeremy Hunt said as he insisted the dispute over the controversial new contract can be resolved.
Discussions between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Government will continue in an effort to break the stalemate in the English junior doctors dispute.
Two further strikes are planned - a 48-hour stoppage and the provision of emergency care only from 8am on Tuesday January 26, and a full withdrawal of labour from 8am to 5pm on Wednesday February 10
Mr Hunt said that despite efforts by officials and senior doctors he could not guarantee that all A&E units would be able to open if the February 10 strike went ahead.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are talking with the BMA today, we are all sitting around the table at Acas. I really hope we can make progress because we all want the same thing - every doctor wants high quality care every day of the week, and I think the BMA also wants that.
"So I think this is something which needs sorting out by sitting around the table and I think if we do it in the right spirit we can solve this."
Asked whether lives would be in danger on February 10, Mr Hunt said: "I can't give an absolute guarantee but we are busting a gut to make sure that every A&E department is able to function."
He added: "We are going through, hospital by hospital, we are doing detailed work to see whether we can fill the shifts that are not going to be filled by junior doctors and, obviously, our absolute priority is to keep patients safe."
The Health Secretary said he hoped to avoid unilaterally imposing the new contract on junior doctors, but insisted he had the right to fulfil the Tory manifesto commitment.
"We have said that if we can't solve this problem we have to deliver our manifesto commitment and as a last resort we would move to the new contracts, but we really hope that does not happen."
Junior doctors staged a 24-hour walkout on Tuesday, leading to the cancellation of around 4,000 operations and thousands of appointments.
The disagreement centres on changes to medics' pay and working conditions and the basis for the current round of negotiations is the Government's offer from early November, including an 11% rise in basic pay.
But this is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend for which junior doctors can claim extra pay for unsocial hours.