The union representing England’s doctors and the government said on Wednesday they had agreed a deal to end a long-running standoff which led to their first all-out strike in the nearly 70-year history of the state-run National Health Service (NHS).
Junior doctors, a term which covers recent medical school graduates right through to doctors who have been working for well over a decade, have staged a series of walkouts in a dispute over plans to bring in a new contract.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s government say the new arrangements are part of its plan to bring in a safer and fuller seven-day health service, but doctors feared the contract would cause them to work longer hours at anti-social times, putting patients at risk.
The row led to the first all-out strike last month, when junior doctors walked out from all services including accident and emergency and intensive care, leading to 13,000 operations and 113,000 outpatient appointments being cancelled.
After 10-days of talks at conciliation service Acas, the two sides said a deal had now been agreed. This will now have to be agreed by 37,000 doctors who are members of the doctors’ union, the British Medical Association (BMA), but industrial action has been called off in the meantime.
“I believe that what has been agreed today … is a good deal for junior doctors and will ensure that they can continue to deliver high-quality care for patients,” said Dr Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctor committee chairman.
Created in 1948, the taxpayer-funded NHS provides all types of medical care for free to everyone in Britain although the row only affected doctors in England as NHS services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are managed separately.
Polls suggested a majority of the public backed the doctors in the dispute but Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had refused to back down over plans to impose the new contract which increased doctors’ basic pay but reduced the number of hours in the week considered anti-social and attracting additional pay.
“This deal represents a definitive step forward for patients, for doctors, and for the NHS as a whole,” Hunt said in a statement.
The new contract will be published at the end of the month and the outcome of a vote by junior doctors on whether to accept it will be announced on July 6.