Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has written directly to all junior doctors in England promising that they will not suffer a pay cut under a new contract being imposed by the government next year, in a move that could ward off any potential strikes by the profession.

Outlining the main conditions of the new contract in a firm offer, the Department of Health has confirmed that three-quarters of junior doctors will see an approximate 11% increase in basic pay, with the remainder getting pay protection. 

This means that a newly qualified junior doctor can expect to start on a basic salary of £25,500, compared to £22,636 in the current contract, which will advance through five pay progression points, reaching £55,000 in the final stage of training compared to £47,175 under current conditions.

In another significant step away from the status quo, pay rises for junior doctors will now be performance-based rather than in automatic yearly increments regardless of achievement.

The DH is urging the British Medical Association “to return to the table and negotiate on the detail to secure a fair, safe deal for doctors and patients”. But a BMA spokesman told PharmaTimes this morning that the Association is not in a position to comment as it has not seen the proposed contract, and only became aware of the government’s new proposals through the media last night. 

The trade union is currently getting ready to send ballot papers to its members later this week, with a view to possible industrial action by junior doctors over the continued contract dispute.

'Come back to the table'

However, appealing to the BMA to “do the right thing and come back to the table,” Hunt argues that the firm offer “gives the best protection junior doctors have ever had against working long, unsafe hours,” and offers “better basic pay with increases based on responsibility instead of time served, a shorter working week and improved patient safety”. 

The DH also warned that the new contract will be implemented next August and that it “will not remove this timetable”, because reform is “imperative” and “the BMA agreed as far back as 2008 that changes were needed…yet since it walked away from negotiations in 2014 has continually refused to re-enter talks”. 

“The BMA and junior doctors have been clear that we want to reach a negotiated agreement with the government on a contract that is good for patients, junior doctors and the NHS,” the Association said this week in a statement, but it also stressed that, in order to do this, “we have said, repeatedly, that the government must remove the threat of imposition and provide the concrete assurances junior doctors have asked for on a contract that is safe and fair”.