Junior doctors' leaders have been forced into an embarrassing climb- down after their members refused to accept a deal to head off strike action.

A stormy meeting of the British Medical Association's junior doctors committee snubbed a joint announcement of agreement on a new contract by health secretary Frank Dobson and chair Andrew Hobart.

Representatives were angered by the deal, which had been announced the day before their meeting. They decided they would 'neither accept nor reject' it without further negotiations and a ballot of all juniors. Juniors had been threatening to strike for better pay for on-call work.

Mr Hobart had to retract his welcome for the offer of a three-year agreement to cut average working hours, with fines for trusts which failed to comply. Before the meeting, he had said he was 'delighted that an understanding has been reached on a new contract for junior doctors which will guarantee safe working hours'.

In a joint announcement with the BMA, Mr Dobson had also lauded the 'ground- breaking agreement', which would replace the complicated system of payments for on-call work with more straightforward bands for doctors working at high or low intensity.

After the meeting, junior doctors committee member Dr Kate Adams said reports of the deal had been 'premature'.

'There was surprise at the fact that there was an announcement before the committee had met.

'Everyone feels very strongly about this issue. The deal hasn't been finalised and we don't know which doctors will be in which bands, so we told our negotiators to go back and do more work on it.'

The BMA had to cancel a press conference announcing the deal which had already been trailed in a statement. The committee decided to call for a special conference to thrash out the deal, followed by a ballot of all junior doctors.

After the meeting Mr Hobart told HSJ: 'I think there was a combination of factors which made the whole thing very difficult for the committee.

'It was a mistake to refer to it as a deal rather than an offer.'

Mr Dobson's proposals could only be described as a 'framework until we know what the details are'.