The vast majority of junior doctors have voiced their support for industrial action over the government’s threat to impose a new working contract from August next year.

Following a ballot of more than 37,000 junior doctors in England, 99.4% voted in favour of industrial action short of a strike, and 98% supported for full strike action, clearly demonstrating the strength of opposition to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plans for the profession.

The British Medical Association said it “regrets the inevitable disruption that this will cause,” but stressed that “junior doctors have clearly been left with no alternative due to the government’s continued threat to impose a contract that is unsafe for patients and unfair for doctors”.

However, the trade union also noted that is has approached Acas “to offer conciliatory talks with the health secretary and NHS Employers to clarify the conflicting information coming from government over the past weeks”. Hunt has offered junior doctors an 11% rise in basic pay but a cut in unsociable hours, which many fear will eat into their current salaries.

“The health secretary is right when he says this action is ‘wholly avoidable’,” said BMA council chair Mark Porter. “Our message to him is that junior doctors have today made their views perfectly clear but that it is still possible to get back around the negotiating table to deliver a contract that is safe for patients, contains the necessary contractual safeguards to prevent junior doctors being overworked and properly recognises evening and weekend work”. 

Strike days

As it stand, the junior doctors will provide emergency care only, which is the same as they would provide in their specialty, hospital or GP practice on Christmas Day, on Tuesday December 1 (from 8am until 8am Wednesday December 2). This will be followed by full walk-outs on Tuesday December 8 and Wednesday December 16.

"By taking the unprecedented step of not providing emergency cover for two of their days of action, the BMA are putting the NHS and their colleagues under even greater strain during one of its busiest periods impacting even further on our ability to provide safe and effective care for our patients,” said Danny Mortimer, chief executive at NHS Employers.

But noting “the lowest morale amongst doctors in a generation,” Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, stressed: “We must do whatever we can to support our junior doctors and make them understand how valued - and how essential to the future of patient care - they are”.

“Doctors choose medicine because they genuinely want to care for their patients and contribute to the health service. This decision is an overwhelming indication that junior doctors do not think the proposed contract will enable them to do this”.