Talks between the Department of Health, NHS employers and junior doctors representatives have restarted. The talks, offered by a Health Secretary who has up until now been resolutely refusing to talk, will happen over five days, ending on Friday 13 May. For the period of the talks the government has agreed to pause the imposition of the junior doctors contract. The fact that the talks are happening shows the Health Secretary feels unable to face down the mounting pressure on him.
However the government has said nothing which indicates that they are willing to compromise on the key issue weekend working. Junior doctors on the BMA junior doctors committee are arguing for the BMA to hold its position, and not negotiate any contract that would lead to a seven-day elective NHS without increased staffing and resources. Regardless, any changed contract to come out of these negotiations will be put to the BMA membership to accept or reject. Junior doctors will also have an immediate opportunity to give their thoughts on the outcome of the negotiations as the BMA junior doctors conference will be held in London this Saturday (14 May), followed by a meeting of the junior doctors committee on the Sunday.
Even if junior doctors eventually reject the contract in a ballot, if the government has stopped the imposition of the current contract in order for the BMA to ballot then it may prevent them achieving implementation before this August when junior doctors start their next rotation. This means that there will be a whole year in which to win the fight against the contract. It currently seems very likely that there is going to be a full u-turn from the government on the key issues. Junior doctors should be prepared to keep on fighting and take note that their escalation of strikes in April worked and should be built on. Whilst this process is going on the dispute must not be allowed to lose momentum. Already is has been too long since the last national demonstration linked to the dispute. Whatever the result of the negotiations the broader fight to save the NHS must go on, and junior doctors should continue to mobilise as part of that wider fight.