Sir David Dalton, the senior NHS boss involved in mediation with junior doctors in the NHS, has written to 45,000 trainee medics in an eleventh hour attempt to avoid the strike planned for next week.
Junior doctors are striking over new contractual conditions which the government intends to impose on them.
Dalton’s letter, sent on Wednesday, combines sympathy for the low morale that has been gathering among trainee doctors in England in recent years with a warning that the five-month-old dispute will rumble on even further unless a deal is agreed.
But with junior doctors continuing to strongly oppose the position of the government, with little potential for a resolution to the outstanding issues, it seems unlikely that the letter will have any significant influence.
Junior doctors are set to walk out from 8am on Wednesday, in what was set to be an unprecedented example of industrial action.
However, the British Medical Association announced that the full walkout that had initially been intended would be watered down somewhat, possibly with the intention of gaining greater sympathy from the public.
In particular, the re-allocation of hours at the weekend as essentially on-peak has caused considerable consternation among the doctors union and its members.
It has been reported that some junior doctors could see their pay cut by as much as 30% under the new arrangement.
Commenting on the strike action, the letter from Dalton emphasises the importance of compromise from both sides.
“It is clear that what is needed is a commitment on both sides to continue to talk on the key remaining issues and to find the room for settlement. Failure to do this will mean that no agreement can be reached. This would be sad in any circumstances but particularly so when there has been so much progress in the last month.”
The letter has been criticised by some as an attempt to drive a wedge between the British Medical Association trade union and its members, particularly the following section.
“It is really disheartening that at the end of last week the BMA declined an invitation to talk about the key outstanding issues (ie unsocial hours definition and associated payments), and have so far stated that they are unwilling to negotiate and reconsider these points at all.”
Dalton’s letter adds: “I came into these negotiations with a clear view – that the contract should be safe and fair for trainee doctors and effective and affordable for the NHS. I have served the NHS for over 36 years and hold firm to its values. You can be assured that I would never act in a way which compromised those values and that I strive to treat all staff in a fair and reasonable way.”
Despite the 11% pay rise that the government has offered, junior doctors remain reluctant to accept the contractual conditions that have been offered, despite certain provisions having been made by the government.
The British Medical Association has stated that there are financial and logistical issues that remain unresolved.
Despite the efforts of Dalton, it seems extremely unlikely that the planned industrial action on 10th February will indeed take place.