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48-hour junior doctors’ strike called off

34The 48-hour junior doctors’ strike due to start next Tuesday in England has been called off by the British Medical Association
The decision comes as talks continue this week between the doctors’ union and the government about the disputed junior doctor contract in England.
The BMA said the move did not mean a deal had been reached.
A planned strike on Wednesday 10 February could still go ahead if the negotiations stall.
That stoppage is considered to be potentially the most disruptive as it is a complete walk-out, whereas next week’s one – like the 24-hour strike held last Tuesday – still saw junior doctors provide emergency cover.
The decision to call off next week’s strike is good news for patients. Last week more than one in 10 operations were cancelled because of the 24-hour walk-out.
But it would be dangerous to read too much into the decision. The two sides are really no closer to agreement than they were before that stoppage.
Payment for weekend working, career progression and the safeguards being proposed to stop hospitals over-working doctors still remain the key sticking points.
The reasoning behind cancelling next week’s stoppage is pretty obvious. It allows the British Medical Association to say it is thinking about patients, while also ensuring the on-going talks can take place without stopping – as they did last week – during industrial action.
By holding the first strike the BMA ensured its mandate for action did not expire. So it can call off this action safe in the knowledge it still has its strongest bargaining chip – a full walk-out on 10 February – up its sleeve.
Commenting on the decision to suspend industrial action, BMA junior doctor committee chair Dr Johann Malawana said: “The BMA’s aim has always been to deliver a safe, fair junior doctor contract through negotiated agreement.
“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.
“On this basis, the BMA has today taken the decision to suspend the industrial action planned for 26 to 28 January, thereby giving trusts as much notice as possible so as to avoid disruption to patients.
“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 10 February, is to be averted.”
The row between junior doctors and the government is over a new contract
Talks broke down in 2014, but the dispute has escalated since the summer after ministers said they would impose the deal
Ministers offered doctors an 11% rise in basic pay last year, but that was offset by curbs to other elements of the pay package, including payments for unsociable hours – they have maintained there is not extra money for junior doctor pay
The government says the changes are needed to create more seven-days services, but the BMA warns safeguards to keep a lid on excessive hours are being weakened
The union balloted its members in the autumn, and 98% of those who voted backed strike action
Talks restarted in December, leading to three days of strikes being called off, but these have so far failed to reach a breakthrough, which is why strikes are taking place
The decision by the BMA comes after a 24-hour walk-out by junior doctors last week. It led to over 3,000 operations being cancelled on the day – about one in 10 of those that were planned to take place.
But as soon as that finished talks restarted at the conciliation service Acas – discussion which are continuing this week.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The strike that took place last week was unnecessary while talks are ongoing, so it’s extremely welcome news that the BMA has suspended next week’s action.
“In the end, the government and junior doctors want to do the same thing by improving patient care at weekends – and we look forward to further constructive discussions.”