Industrial action by junior doctors in England is to go ahead after contract talks with the government reached an impasse yet again.

The British Medical Association had called time on its programme of strikes after signs of early progress in conciliatory talks with the government and NHS Employers on plans for the new working contract. 

But junior doctors will now take to picket lines again after talks ended without agreement, despite the efforts of the Department of Health’s newly-appointed chief negotiator Sir David Dalton, who has been praised by the BMA. 

“His understanding of the realities of a health service buckling under mounting pressures and commitment to reaching a fair agreement has resulted in good progress on a number of issues,” said junior doctors committee chair Johann Malawana. “It is, therefore, particularly frustrating that the Government is still digging in its heels”.

“The Government’s entrenched position in refusing to recognise Saturday working as unsocial hours, together with its continued threat to impose a contract so fiercely resisted by junior doctors across England, leaves us with no alternative but to continue with industrial action,” he explained.

There was one concession, however, as the full-scale walk-out planned for February 10 has now been scaled back to excluding doctors working in emergency care.

In a letter to BMA council chair Mark Porter, health secretary Jeremy Hunt argued that the government and NHS Employers made "a significant offer" on the extent of what is considered normal working hours and stood ready to discuss these matters.

"It is very disappointing that the BMA felt unable to negotiate", he said, adding: "Our door remains open and I hope you will continue to reflect on the value of further discussions."