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Agreement in sight for Junior doctors’ contract deal

A potential deal in the long running dispute over a new junior doctors’ contract has been agreed.

AgreementGovernment negotiators and the British Medical Association leadership have reached an agreement after eight days of talks at conciliation service Acas.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the deal was a “significant step forward”, while the BMA said it represented the “best and final way” to end the row.

The offer will now be put to a vote of over 40,000 BMA members.

That means it could still end up being rejected, but the fact the union and government have agreed a deal to end the stalemate is a major breakthrough.

These talks were seen as the last chance to get an agreement and were set up after a series of strikes, including the first ever full walk out by doctors.

It comes after the government announced in February it would be imposing the contract from this summer after previous talks failed.

The details released this week include several major changes:

  • the basic pay rise is to be reduced from 13.5% to between 10% and 11%
  • weekends will no longer be divided up between normal and unsocial hours, instead a system of supplements will be paid which depend on how many weekends a doctor works over the course of a year
  • extra pay for night shifts is to be reduced from 50% to 37%
  • extra support will be made available for doctors who take time out, such as women who go on maternity leave, to enable them to catch up on their training and thus qualify for pay rises – after claims women were being unfairly penalised
  • junior doctors will get an enhanced role in advising and liaising with the independent guardians who keep an eye on the hours doctors work
  • the deal remains cost neutral, which means the government is not putting in extra money

The fact that something has been agreed is a major breakthrough. But this dispute is still a long way from being over. The BMA has promised its 40,000 members a vote on the agreement. That will be carried out in June and there are no guarantees the membership will give it the green light.

Junior doctors have been incredibly united throughout. Some 98% voted in favour of taking strike action last autumn and whenever union leaders have taken soundings since, the overwhelming sense has been that they have wanted to fight on.

If this hadn’t been the case the leadership would probably have agreed a deal long before now. What will be interesting, and perhaps crucial, is just how strongly the BMA leadership tries to sell the agreement to members in the coming weeks.

BMA junior doctor leader Dr Johann Malawana said he was pleased to have reached a deal after “intense but constructive talks”, adding it was the “best and final way” of resolving the dispute.

“Junior doctors have always wanted to agree a safe and fair contract, one that recognises and values the contribution junior doctors make to the NHS, addresses the recruitment and retention crisis in parts of the NHS and provides the basis for delivering a world-class health service.”

“What has been agreed today delivers on these principles, is a good deal for junior doctors and will ensure that they can continue to deliver high-quality care for patients.”

He said he would be recommending the deal to junior doctors ahead of the vote of BMA members, which will be run in June.

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