Contract negotiations between the British Medical Association and NHS Employers suddenly collapsed last night.
The BMA issued a press release on Twitter at 9.15pm in which it announced the talks had ended, claiming: “The government refused to agree necessary safeguards to protect doctors from working dangerously long hours, compromising patient safety and doctors’ wellbeing.”
NHS Employers appeared to have been caught by surprise and issued a statement last night that it was “amazed” at the decision of the BMA as it had agreed with consultants to work towards a deal in the next few days.
It is understood an email from the junior doctors committee was sent to NHS Employers moments before the announcement.
The 18 month talks had centred on NHS Employer’s proposal that consultants’ ability to refuse to work on weekends and evenings for non-urgent work should be removed.
Other proposals included changes to their pay structure and a shake up of the Clinical Execellence Award scheme.
The BMA claimed last night that while it was willing to discuss changes NHS Employers had refused to provide necessary safeguards beyond what it called “broad statements of intent.”
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The failure of negotiations comes as the NHS is seeking to develop more seven day services, a key government and NHS England ambition.
Changes to pay structures follow similar agreement with Agenda for Change unions last year to better link pay to performance.
However, there there were also moves to try to secure a lower starting salary for new consultants.
In discussions over the junior doctor contract, sources told HSJ that NHS Employers wanted more “discretionary effort” from junior doctors without any additional pay.
The junior doctors side of the talks was understood to be seeking an increased hourly rate, with safeguards on the number of hours they would be expected to work without an increase to the overall cost.
The BMA said: “For a government that claims to champion patient safety, its failure to agree safeguards, and in the case of junior doctors its desire to remove existing protections in order to save money, shows how they have failed to recognise the damaging impact that unsafe and gruelling working patterns have on patients, doctors and the quality of care in the NHS.”
Gill Bellord, director of employment relations for NHS Employers, said last night: “We are surprised to hear that the BMA junior doctors committee appear to have withdrawn from the discussions without notice and are communicating by Twitter.
“It is a disappointing way to conclude 18 months of serious discussions which were intended to ensure 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.
“And we are amazed to leave consultant negotiations, having agreed further urgent work in next few days by both parties, only to learn by Twitter that the BMA has withdrawn without notice from serious discussions like these.”