Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned that the planned all-out strike by junior doctors this week will seriously risk the safety of many patients depending on the NHS.
Under the direction of the British Medical Association, junior doctors are gearing up to hit picket lines on April 26 and 27, including those working in emergency care, marking a first in NHS history.
In a letter to Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, Hunt has “strongly urged” a rethink on whether the “extreme action” is “proportionate or appropriate” and appealed for an end to the strike “which will be deeply worrying for patients, and place enormous additional strain on our NHS at a time of intense pressure”.
“Had the BMA not gone back on its word to negotiate on the principal outstanding issue - Saturday pay - we would have an agreed contract by now and imposition would have been avoided,” he wrote, and proposed a new meeting to discuss outstanding issues.
In a responding letter, Dr Porter reiterated his side’s commitment to reaching a negotiated settlement, but stressed “this cannot take place with the threat of imposition hanging over our junior doctors’ heads”.
“I am now repeating this offer as a way to break the current impasse: if you agree to lift imposition while talks resume, we will immediately call off the industrial action,” he stressed.
He also rejected the assertion that the only outstanding bone of contention regarding the contract relates to Saturday pay, citing a number of “critical issues” concerning work-life balance, excessive working hours, improvements in training and crucially, workforce and funding implications for seven day services.
“The proposed contract is deficient in failing to address these issues properly, hence our concerns for patient care, the long-term future of the NHS and the recruitment and retention of doctors,” he said.
With no sign of an agreement, the NHS is now preparing itself for the planned industrial action. Operations and procedures due over the two days are being rescheduled, NHS England has stressed that A&E departments will remain open but is asking patients only to attend if it is essential.
It has also warned that GPs may experience greater demand than normal over strike period, “so contact them early if you need advice or an appointment”.