19 Jan 2016

Hunt sidelined as second junior doctors’ strike called off

So the next 48-hour strike, which had been due to start on Tuesday, has been called off while talks between the British Medical Association and NHS Employers/Government continue.

A cause for optimism? Perhaps. Since Sir David Dalton, chief executive of the Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, was brought into the talks and a committee of advisers was set up, there does appear to have been some movement.

My sources tell me that apart from the two major sticking points – the Saturday hours and a safety mechanism to stop trusts overworking juniors – one of the biggest issues is the psychological damage done.

Junior doctors (and this was someone from the employers’ side saying this) are angry, dismayed, hurt, over the accusations levelled at them throughout this process – accusations that they are, for instance, putting patients’ lives at risk, that they are standing in the way of a seven-day NHS.

There is also anger at the way statistics have been used to make a point about weekends – more people dying, more people dying of strokes, both of which have been strenuously disputed.

To this end, it has been felt wise to take this out of the hands of Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary (as much as you can given that he is the Health Secretary) because that relationship has well and truly broken down.

There is now an advisory group made up of chief executives, medical directors and workforce directors helping Sir David.

On the Government side there is frustration because a seven-days-a-week NHS is, after all, a manifesto pledge and one that appeared popular with the public. Their statement today says that the Government and Junior doctors want to do the same thing by improving patient care at weekends.

ACAS talks were not due to begin again until Thursday but behind the scenes the negotiating has never really stopped as today’s announcement reveals.

There does, however, remain the threat of the all-out strike on February 10 from 8am to 5pm, although, again, there is some speculation that the BMA may reinstate emergency cover.

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