Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has written to the British Medical Association to offer ‘unequivocal assurances’ over plans to reform junior doctor contracts.

In the letter, released by the Department of Health today, Mr Hunt said any changes would not affect the average earnings of junior doctors and he offered a number of pledges in a bid to try and encourage the BMA junior doctors’ committee to return to negotiations.

Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt said junior doctors had received ‘significant misinformation’

The letter was sent Johan Malawana, chair of the committee that has refused to re-enter talks with the government and is planning to ballot members over plans to take industrial action.

While Mr Hunt offered a number of guarantees to junior doctors, he also used the letter to criticise the BMA for causing concern among junior doctors. He singled out the association’s use of a pay calculator, which he said had misled junior doctors “into believing that their pay will be cut by 30 per cent and that they will be asked to work many more hours each week.”

Mr Hunt said: “I have asked NHS Employers to develop the details of the new contract to ensure that the great majority of junior doctors are at least as well paid as they would be now… In any scenario, I can give an absolute guarantee that average pay for juniors will not reduce.”

He added: “As you know, the government has been saying privately to the BMA for many months that we have no such intention, so I hope that this letter, with a set of unequivocal assurances, now helps us to move the debate on and provides reassurance to junior doctors who have been on the receiving end of significant misinformation.

“The best deal for junior doctors will be achieved by the BMA coming to the table to negotiate on their behalf and I urge you now to do this.”

Pledges made by the health secretary include:

  • An “assurance” that nights and Sundays will continue to attract unsocial hours payments and the option to negotiate how far plain time working extends on Saturdays.
  • An “absolute guarantee” that the contract will not impose longer hours, with an average working week of 48 hours.
  • In exceptional cases doctors will be “compensated for hours worked outside the work schedule.”
  • He said changing pay progression to make it linked to responsibility rather than time served was not about saving money and would remain cost neutral.
  • Consideration of pay protection or doctors who change to a new specialty at a more junior level and no cut to GP trainee pay.

Responding to Mr Hunt Dr Johann Malawana from the BMA junior doctor committee said: “It is encouraging that the health secretary has finally recognised the vital role that junior doctors play as tomorrow’s leaders across the NHS. However, questions still remain and we are urgently seeking clarification on the points raised in the letter.”