Junior doctors call off five-day strikes over contracts

Image source, PA

Junior doctors in England have suspended a series of five-day strikes over the next three months, following concerns over patient safety.

Walkouts in October, November and December, in protest against a new contract, had been planned.

The junior doctors' committee of the British Medical Association said that it remained in dispute with the government over the issue.

The government has said the doctors' case is without merit.

A strike planned earlier in September had already been cancelled.

The Department of Health says the new contract will help to provide a seven-day NHS but junior doctors disagree with its introduction and walked out for six one-day stoppages in the first four months of this year.

Dr Ellen McCourt, chairwoman of the BMA junior doctors committee, said the latest decision had been taken "in light of feedback from doctors, patients and the public, and following a passionate, thoughtful and wide-ranging debate amongst junior doctors".

She added: "We still oppose the imposition of the contract and are now planning a range of other actions in order to resist it, but patient safety is doctors' primary concern and so it is right that we listen and respond to concerns about the ability of the NHS to maintain a safe service.

"We hope the government will seize this opportunity to engage with junior doctors and listen to the range of voices from across the NHS raising concerns about doctors' working lives and the impact of the contract on patient care."


By Hugh Pym, health editor

This is a surprise move.

It seems the BMA junior doctors committee's decision has been swayed by feedback. Patients, doctors and the public have been concerned about what the strike would mean for patient safety.

The BMA has now had to bow to pressure and change tack.

I suspect the government won't want to come out and appear triumphalist - this has been a long and bitter battle.

Where we are is that this contract is going to be introduced for people starting new jobs on 5 October - just a couple of weeks from now.

Although the strikes have been called off, the way junior doctors see the controversial contract won't change.

They say that their campaign will continue. They talk about continuing it by other means, although they don't say what those means will be.

On Wednesday we'll get the judgment from a legal review.

There are still developments to come in this long-running saga.

Earlier this week, former health secretary Lord Lansley said: "The junior doctors' dispute... it is in my view unethical to potentially inflict harm to patients in pursuit of what is a self-interested campaign."

In May, it looked as though a breakthrough had been reached in the dispute after both sides agreed to a new deal.

But the government announced in July that it would impose a new contract after junior doctors and medical students voted to reject the deal.

Correction 25 September 2016: An earlier version of this story wrongly attributed a quote by Lord Lansley to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.