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Hunt’s latest letter to BMA: “My door is always open to further negotiations”

Health Secretary’s letter to BMA’s Junior Doctor Committee chair (28 October):

I am giving a firm guarantee on behalf of the Government that no junior doctor will see their pay cut compared to their current contract.

As the JDC moves towards a ballot of its members, I will be setting out the full details of the Government’s contractual offer to junior doctors in the coming days. However, I sincerely hope that on the basis of these assurances you will reconsider your refusal to enter negotiations.

It is deeply regrettable that so many of your members still believe that pay cuts in the order of 30 to 40% are on the table. I am told the pay calculator on the BMA website which implied this has now been withdrawn, but to date there has been no attempt to correct the misinformation and fear which quite understandably spread as a result.

I emphasise again that I want the new contract to improve patient safety including by better supporting a seven day NHS. Within this, nights and Sundays will continue to attract unsocial hours payments, and I would be pleased to discuss in negotiations how far plain time working extends to Saturdays.

I continue to believe that our ambition for the NHS to be the safest healthcare system in the world is underpinned by reducing, not increasing, the number of hours junior doctors work each week.

The new contract will mean no junior is required to work more than an average of 48 hours per week, with tougher limits on unsafe hours including a new maximum working week of 72 hours, and a new maximum shift pattern of four consecutive night shifts and five long days shifts compared with the current contract which permits more than 90 hours a week, 7 consecutive night shifts and 6 long day shifts.

So the ideas that this contract would herald a return to the long hours of the past could not be further from the truth. IN fact it is the current contract which provides perverse incentive for juniors to work unsafe hours by paying those who breach safe hours up to 100% of their basic pay.

As you know, my overriding aim in pursuing these contractual changes is to improve patient safety by dealing with the ‘weekend effect’ in our hospitals. I know doctors share this aim of delivering the safest, most compassionate care possible.

I invite you once again to come back to the table to negotiate a contract that rewards doctors fairly and that has safe care at its heart. My door is always open.

The response from the BMA’s Dr Johann Malawana: 

“It is encouraging that the health secretary has finally made a significant shift and recognised some of the concerns raised by junior doctors. However, it has taken the threat of industrial action and the sight of thousands of junior doctors taking to the streets to reach this point.

“The BMA has been quite clear that the government must withdraw the threat of imposition of new contracts on junior doctors, the extensive preconditions to negotiations the Department of Health keep insisting on and provide junior doctors with the assurances they are demanding before re-entering negotiations. The letter from the health secretary could be a step in the right direction. We look forward to seeing more of the detail that the health secretary has committed to providing in the coming few days.

“After repeated attempts to conflate junior doctors’ legitimate concerns and the government’s rhetoric on seven-day services, it is positive that the health secretary has finally acknowledged what people across the country already know: that junior doctors already work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week up and down this country.”

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