English Doctors' Strike Suspended as Progress Reported in Talks

  • Junior medics planned to walk out for 48 hours next week
  • BMA labor union says differences still exist with government

A 48-hour strike planned for next week by junior doctors in state-run National Health Service hospitals in England was suspended after progress in talks with the U.K. government, the British Medical Association said.

The doctors -- medical-school graduates training to be consultants or family practitioners -- staged a first strike a week ago in opposition to a planned new contract changing the way they’re paid and reducing compensation for evening and weekend work. The BMA, the doctors’ labor union, says patient safety is at risk, while the government says the new deal is needed to move to seven-day-a-week working, a priority it’s set for the NHS.

“Following junior doctors’ clear message to the government during last week’s action, our focus is now on building on early progress made in the current set of talks,” Johann Malawana, who heads the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said in a statement on the union’s website. ‘It is important to be clear, however, that differences still exist between the BMA and the government on key areas, including the protection of patient safety and doctor’s working lives and the recognition of unsocial hours. Significant, concrete progress will need to be made if future action, currently planned for Feb. 10, is to be averted.’’

Next week’s planned strike was due to start at 8 a.m. London time on Jan. 26. As in the first, 24-hour stoppage a week ago, the medics would have provided emergency care only. NHS England said only 39 percent of a possible 26,000 junior doctors reported for work a week ago and that more than 3,400 procedures had to be postponed.

‘Constructive Spirit’

Prime Minister David Cameron, who refused to rule out the possibility on Monday that the government might impose the new contract on the doctors if talks failed, welcomed the announcement of the suspension.

“We’ve always been clear that we want to engage with the BMA to find a solution and it’s important now that we continue to sit around the table in a constructive spirit in order to find a solution,” his spokeswoman, Helen Bower, told reporters in London.

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