Talks to continue in bid to avert strike action by junior doctors
Talks between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Government will continue today in an effort to avert strike action by junior doctors.
A spokesman for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) said discussions between NHS Employers, the Department of Health and the BMA have adjourned for the day and will resume today.
The talks, which began today, came after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt performed a U-turn to avoid industrial action by thousands of doctors.
The minister previously said he would not agree to talks unless BMA officials came back to the negotiating table first. But in a letter to the chairman sent on Wednesday, he said "any talks are better than strikes", which themselves posed a "serious threat" to patient safety.
Mr Hunt said in his letter he was happy "in the first instance" for his officials and NHS Employers, which negotiates on behalf of the Government, to commence talks with the BMA using Acas.
The BMA had insisted that talks must go through Acas after 98% of doctors balloted over strike action said they were in favour of planned walk-outs.
Mr Hunt said extreme strike action planned for December posed "a serious threat" to patient safety.
More than 37,000 doctors were balloted by the BMA, and 76% took part in the vote.
Doctors are poised to take action over three days, providing emergency care only for 24 hours from 8am on December 1, followed by full walkouts from 8am to 5pm on December 8 and 16.
There would be mass disruption to the NHS, with hospitals forced to cancel outpatient clinics and non-urgent operations.
The new contract is set to be imposed from next summer on doctors working up to consultant level.
Mr Hunt previously tried to avert strikes with a fresh deal, including an 11% rise in basic pay.
This is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend that junior doctors can claim extra pay for "unsocial" hours.
Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay.
Under the new plans, a higher rate would run from 10pm to 7am Monday to Friday, and from 7pm on Saturday evenings - a concession on the previous 10pm.
Mr Hunt argues that, under the new deal, just 1% of doctors would lose pay and those would be limited to doctors working too many hours already.
The BMA has said the increase in basic pay is misleading due to the changes to pay for unsocial hours.
It also has other concerns over flexible pay plans for some specialities.
The talks are due to resume this morning.
The president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said he understood the concerns of junior doctors but warned against any action that could put patients in jeopardy.
Dr Cliff Mann told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We fully understand the concerns of our junior doctors and at the moment terms and conditions are a real barrier to recruitment into emergency medicine.
"That has a much greater longer-term effect on patient outcomes and safety than any current outcome."
He added: "We support the logic of why people want to take industrial action, but we are not in favour of actually withdrawing labour which would in any way compromise patient care."