Jeremy Hunt, secretary of state for health, has agreed to put the introduction of the controversial junior doctors’ contracts on hold for five day to resume talks with doctors’ leaders.
He said that although the government was committed to the new contract from August but would resume talks if the British Medical Association (BMA) agreed to discuss the issues that were outstanding when talks broke down in February.
His move came in response to a call by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) for the health secretary and Johann Malawana, chair of the junior doctors committee of the British Medical Association, to “dial down the rhetoric” and resume talks.
It called for the five-day pause from Monday (May 9) of the imposition of the new contract and a five day break from industrial action.
Academy chairwoman Professor Dame Sue Bailey said: “A five day pause without ‘ifs, buts, or maybes’ and with both sides in the dispute publicly committing to a serious attempt to reach a resolution through genuine dialogue is obviously the only way out of this impasse.”
Hunt wrote to Bailey saying: “We are willing to pay our part.”
However, he said talks cannot go ahead unless the BMA junior doctors’ committee gave a written agreement that it would negotiate on unsocial hours and Saturday pay and recommend any agreement to its members.
The academy, which represents the 22 medical royal colleges, had reminded both sides that their over-riding duty was to patients and warned that lives are potentially at risk.
Bailey said the royal colleges were unanimous in calling for Hunt and Malawana to “take a deep breath, dial down the rhetoric and get back to the table for talks facilitated, perhaps by a senior independent figure”.
Malawana said: “Junior doctors have said since the outset that we want to reach a negotiated agreement, and have repeatedly urged the government to re-enter talks.
“As suggested by the Academy, we are keen to restart talks with an open mind. It is critical to find a way forward on all the outstanding issues – which are more than just pay – and hope that a new offer is made that can break the impasse.”
The junior doctors committee is due to meet this Saturday to discuss their next step.
Junior doctors held four strikes between February and April that affected non urgent care and staged an unprecedented all out strike last week, withdrawing cover for emergency care.