Junior Doctors Set to Strike in England After Talks Fail

  • 24-hour stoppage set to start at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10
  • Medics are protesting new contract that cuts weekend payments

Junior doctors and staff members take part in a picket outside Maudsley Hospital in London on January 12.

Photographer: Carl Court/Getty Images

Junior doctors in state-run National Health Service hospitals in England will go ahead with a strike over a new contract next week, after talks with the U.K. government failed to produce an agreement, their labor union said.

The doctors -- medical-school graduates training to be consultants or family practitioners -- staged a first strike last month to protest against the proposed contract, which would alter the way they’re paid and reduce compensation for evening and weekend work. 

The British Medical Association, the doctors’ union, says patient safety is at risk from the changes. The government says the new terms are needed to move to seven-day-a-week working, a priority it’s set for the NHS, and that most doctors would not be worse off.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been threatening to impose the new contract on doctors as a last resort. The two sides had been attempting to end the impasse with negotiations under the auspices of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, which is often called on to help in intractable labor disputes.

‘Best Efforts’

“Despite the best efforts of our negotiating team, and hours of talks facilitated by ACAS, we have not managed to reach agreement with NHS employers and the Department of Health on the new junior doctors contract,” the BMA said on its website Monday. “As a result, the industrial action we planned for Feb. 10 will be going ahead.”

However, the BMA downgraded the severity of the planned stoppage. The junior medics will now provide emergency care only, rather than going ahead with a full walkout that would also have withdrawn staff from hospital emergency units. The 24-hour strike will start at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

“It’s regrettable the BMA has decided to proceed with further unnecessary industrial action,” Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman, Christian Cubitt, told reporters in London. “We will continue to stay at the table to keep talking and try and reach agreement with them.”

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