Hospitals could be hit by a “rolling programme of industrial action” by junior doctors from as early as next month, according to an email sent to British Medical Association members tonight.
The message reveals that the trade union’s junior doctors’ committee has voted to continue its dispute with the government over the imposition of a new contract.
The email from acting chair of the BMA junior doctors’ committee Ellen McCourt tells members she will seek approval from the BMA Council for a “rolling programme of escalated industrial action beginning in early September”.
The email gives no detail of what form the rolling industrial action will take.
The news is the latest twist in the junior doctors dispute, which began when BMA representatives walked out of talks over the contract with NHS Employers in October 2014.
Earlier this year thousands of junior doctors took part in the first strike action of its kind for 40 years, in opposition to the government’s decision to impose a contract after talks failed early in the year.
Subsequent negotiations resulted in a deal with the BMA JDC, which included a number of concessions by government and NHS Employers. However, this proposed deal was rejected by a majority in a vote of the BMA’s junior doctor membership in April. Former JDC chair Johann Malawana resigned as a result of that vote.
In her email to members today, Dr McCourt said: “I have continued to push for improvements which would demonstrate that the secretary of state was serious when he stated in Parliament that his door was always open. But when it comes to the issues which need to be resolved by the government, we have simply seen nothing – not even a response to my letter of two weeks ago spelling out your concerns in no uncertain terms.
“I have repeatedly told the secretary of state what needs to be addressed and, crucially, by when. We have seen some last-minute movement from Health Education England on whistleblowing protections, and from NHS leaders with regard to the role of the guardian of safe working, but the government remains persistently silent.
“In light of this, the JDC executive has voted to reject the proposed new contract in full and to call for formal re-negotiations on all of your concerns. In response to the government’s silence, JDC exec has today made a formal request for a special meeting of BMA Council to authorise a rolling programme of escalated industrial action beginning in early September.”
Dr McCourt added: “We have been reasonable throughout, but cannot stand idly by as we move towards the secretary of state’s arbitrary date of imposition.
“Forcing a contract on junior doctors in which they don’t have confidence, that they don’t feel is good for their patients or themselves, is not something they can accept.”
One junior doctor told HSJ: “While this is a predictable and given the events this year inevitable outcome, this is good for no one. Not doctors. Not patients and not the NHS. It needs a solution and now but will anyone step up and solve it?”
The source suggested a potential solution could involve a one-year moratorium on change “to give space to talk properly without pressure”.
Responding, NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: “Industrial action achieves little or nothing, but places pressure on already stretched teams and services and causes worry, distress and disruption for patients, carers and their families.
“Over the last two months we have been talking with the junior doctors committee and have, along with the Department of Health and others, responded positively to their concerns regarding the guardian role and whistleblowing.
“Employers were hopeful that the continued positive engagement on other important topics – such as deployment, flexibility in training, additional training for those returning from career breaks, costs of training, mutual recognition of syllabus, study leave and the gender pay gap in medicine – were a sign of how serious employers, Health Education England and the [DH] were about honouring the agreements reached with the BMA in November, February and May.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “It is extremely disappointing that the Junior Doctors’ Committee is seeking further strike action, on a contract that has already been endorsed as a ‘good deal’ by the former leader of that same committee.
”Protracted uncertainty can only be damaging for those working in the NHS and the patients who depend on it. We strongly encourage the JDC to step back from action that puts patient safety at risk.”
Updated at 12.15pm on 12 August to include a statement from the Department of Health
Junior doctors seek 'rolling industrial action'
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Junior doctors seek 'rolling industrial action'