The BMA has re-entered formal negotiations on a new consultant contact in England.
The decision follows a vote by the BMA consultant committee. Talks will now continue with NHS Employers over the coming months and any new contract will be put before consultants in a vote early next year.
It follows a threat by health secretary Jeremy Hunt to impose a contract if no progress had been made by 11 September.
The government is particularly keen to remove the controversial consultant ‘opt out’ for weekend working to facilitate a move to seven-day working.
Dr Paul Flynn, BMA consultant committee chair, said: “The BMA is committed to reaching agreement on a contract that delivers high quality, safe patient care across the week. There is still much to discuss, but we want to deliver a contract that is good for patients, fair for doctors and good for the NHS.
“Much of the focus around contract talks has been on seven-day services. The BMA believes patients should have access to high quality care, seven days a week. Nine in 10 consultants already work evenings and weekends to deliver this care, and they do so under the existing contract. Only one per cent have used the so-called ‘weekend opt-out’.
“It is important that the government and NHS Employers work with us constructively in the coming months to agree a contract that delivers for patients and the consultants who care for them, that protects safe working patterns and that values the vital contribution consultants make to the NHS.”
This decision applies to the consultant contract in England only. Consultants in Northern Ireland will decide later this month whether to continue with negotiations. The Welsh Government has not yet given a view on the recommendations of the DDRB report.
There is a separate consultant contract in Scotland, and Scotland has not been party to consultant contract negotiations, which covered England and Northern Ireland only.
Negotiations on behalf of clinical academic doctors employed by universities are not affected by this decision and, subject to a formal decision later this month, would be conducted separately between the BMA’s medical academic staff committee and employers.
A BMA survey of consultants found that almost nine in ten (88%) work evenings and weekends, usually in addition to their normal working week.
A Department of Health spokesperson said it was “a positive step” and it was hoped an agreement could be reached quickly.
No talks have been re-started on the junior’s contracts with the BMA saying the current offer is unacceptable and non-negotiable.
The results of a Freedom of Information request by the BMJ found that only one per cent of consultants had used the so-called ‘weekend opt-out’.