Junioor doctors were today hopeful of a deal being struck over new contracts but “fearful” of the Government backing away from a promise to protect patient safety.
Walk-outs planned for today and December 8 and 16 were cancelled after the British Medical Association and Department of Health last night agreed to allow an extra four weeks for negotiations. If a deal is not struck by January 13, industrial action could follow.
More than 3,000 operations and 17,500 outpatient appointments due to take place today had been cancelled in advance. As talks resumed between the parties today, efforts were underway to re-book patients for procedures planned on the next two strike days.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt antagonised many junior doctors when he described last night’s suspension of action as a “victory for common sense”, tweeting that the strikes “shouldn’t have been called” without talking to the Government first.
Today activists who mobilised support from hundreds of consultants said they hoped Mr Hunt was genuine about reaching agreement.
Dr Ruth Bird, a junior doctor at Barts Health, said: “I think there is a lot of fear that Jeremy Hunt might not be sincere in his return to negotiations.
“I think from the point of the BMA calling off the strike action and going forward with negotiations, there is also a lot of hope and trust in Johann [Malawana, BMA junior doctors’ leader] and the BMA that the decision was not taken lightly and that the decision is in the best interests of doctors and patients.”
Dr Antonio de Marvao, a junior doctor at Imperial College Healthcare, said: “I’m hopeful, but given how extreme the Department of Health opinion was before, I’m not entirely sure that gap can be bridged. There were quite a lot of worries about the removal of safeguards.”
He added: “I’m really sorry for the patients that have been inconvenienced.”
Dr Hoong-Wei Gan, a junior doctor at Great Ormond Street Hospital, said: “We are genuinely glad we are not having to go on strike today. No doctor wanted to go on strike. We were forced into a corner because of this unsafe contract. There is a sense of relief that negotiations are now restarting.”
See here for previous coverage of the junior doctors’ campaign at Barts Health, Imperial College Healthcare and St George’s Healthcare, and research on patients suffering from the “Jeremy Hunt effect“.