Health

Doctors walk out of seven-day service talks

Picture of man with stethoscope Image copyright SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image caption Doctors and NHS officials had been in talks for 18 months

A spat between leading doctors and NHS officials over a seven-day hospital service has led to the breakdown of contract negotiations.

The British Medical Association said the government had failed to recognise the damaging impact long hours could have on patient care.

But NHS Employers said it was committed to talks about the safety of patients and doctors.

It said the decision to stop the talks had come as a "huge disappointment".

'Lack of details'

Under plans set out by the government in 2013, hospitals in England will have to ensure senior doctors and key diagnostic tests are available seven days a week.

NHS officials and the British Medical Association - a union that represents doctors across the UK - had been involved in negotiations about working hours for junior and senior doctors for the last 18 months.

But the British Medical Association (BMA) announced it had stopped taking part in the talks on Thursday evening.

The organisation said it was not prepared to agree to change to contracts that would risk patient safety and doctors' well-being.

Dr Paul Flynn of the BMA said: "So far the government has failed to produce any detail on how it will staff and resource a massive expansion of services in a safe and sustainable way.

"Without this detail, consultants are not prepared to sign up in the dark to proposals that could put patients at risk by forcing existing doctors to work dangerously long hours, or lead to weekday services being cut because there simply aren't enough doctors to staff them."

But Gill Bellord, of NHS Employers, said: "This is a hugely disappointing way to conclude a year and a half of serious discussions.

"All our talks with the BMA have been aimed at ensuring safer working hours for doctors in training, as well as providing them with stability of pay and agreed work schedules that take account of educational needs.

"Underpinning all of this is the essential need to deliver safe care for patients."

She added: "It is a source of personal and professional disappointment that the BMA team feel able to throw our joint progress so far out of the window and walk away from what is currently on the table."

NHS Employers said it had put forward an offer of a maximum 40-hour contract for consultants, unless extended by mutual agreement, and accelerated access to higher pay.

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