A strike by junior doctors planned for Tuesday 1 December was called off at the last minute when the British Medical Association (BMA), NHS bosses and Department for Health ministers came to an agreement at the end of talks.
New contracts for junior doctors will not now be imposed and negotiations will be reopened. Crucially, the danger of the BMA needing to reballot if new negotiations are not satisfactory has been averted.
The agreement allows the BMA to take action up to 13 January using their current ballot mandate. NHS bosses and government ministers have effectively agreed to ignore the law whereby unions must take their first action under a ballot within 27 days of the ballot ending.
This is an important precedent. Reaction to the agreement among doctors has so far been mixed.
Given the level of mobilisation and the BMA's position of strength, some are dismayed that strikes have been postponed just for talks. On the other hand, given how rigidly unwilling the government has been to concede anything to doctors thus far, many doctors will feel buoyed by the agreement.
One junior doctor told Solidarity, “It's really hard to say who comes out of this better. The statement that has been released appears to have some clear wins for Junior Doctors, but other bits that are more alarming [including the BMA conceding the need for Hunt’s ‘Seven day NHS’]. It will take time to unpick.″
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt made clear his contempt for junior doctors and the BMA in announcing the agreement on Twitter. Hunt said ″Victory for common sense. Strike shouldn′t have been called without talking to the government first but great for 7-day services.″
It was the government who were not attending talks, Jeremy, not the BMA!
Some doctors feel the government has played a dirty but clever trick, refusing to negotiate until the last minute, then being able to claim victory and set Hunt up to play the hero in the press conference.
Patients and doctors should be very hacked off with the government. Most operations and clinic appointments will still be cancelled on 1 December, yet the government was perfectly capable of making a much earlier agreement which could have averted disruption.
So far decisions about the dispute have been controlled by the junior doctors’ committee of the BMA, rather than the main BMA council. This is good, and the new negotiations and decisions about them should continue to be conducted by the junior doctors′ committee, making sure regular and informative reports are made to the membership about the negotiations.
While strikes are postponed, doctors and their supporters need to continue mobilising and not allow momentum to stall. Junior doctors in London have called a demonstration for Friday 4 December to urge the BMA on in negotiations and remind the government that they are fighting for a fair and safe contract and for the future of the NHS.