The British Medical Association has called off industrial action by junior doctors following conciliatory talks with NHS Employers and the Department of Health that will see all parties back around the table for “genuine negotiations”.

All action planned for December has now been suspended while negotiations take place, and the imposition of a new contract has been put on hold. NHS Employers has also agreed to extend the timeframe for the BMA to commence any industrial action by four weeks to 5pm on 13 January 2016, to allow negotiations to progress.

The vast majority of junior doctors taking part in the BMA’s recent strike ballot (98%) voted in support of industrial action over the government’s threat to impose a new working contract, that many fear will take a significant chunk out of their salaries. 

But BMA council chair Mark Porter said the move put any such action on hold is in the best interests of patients, doctors and the NHS. “It is unfortunate that we have not been able to reach agreement sooner but patients, doctors and everyone else who works across the NHS will be pleased that in the end the right decision has been made”.

“A return to genuine negotiations is clearly preferable to the imposition of a new contract or industrial action and provides us with the best opportunity to deliver a contract for junior doctors which recognises the central role they play in delivering patient care across the NHS,” he stressed.

In January all parties involved in the negotiations will decide whether meaningful progress is being made, at which point the BMA will consider whether industrial action should be reinstated.

In a statement, employment dispute mediator Acas said it is pleased talks were held “in a constructive manner and cooperative spirit between the parties, that will allow an improvement in industrial relations”.

“All parties acknowledge that they share responsibility for the safety of patients and junior doctors, which must be paramount,” and “wish to achieve a contractual framework that provides fair reward and a safe working environment for junior doctors throughout the week,” it said.

But a stream of doctors also took to the BMA’s website to voice their discontent with the decision, with some accusing the Association of being weak for backing down from action so quickly and before an deal was reached.