The British government has agreed to enter into talks with ACAS over the ongoing dispute with junior doctors.
This eleventh hour effort is intended to mitigate against the threat of strikes, but the union representing junior doctors has underlined that they have not been called off at the time of writing.
Responding to the threat of strike action, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has indicated that he is willing to utilise the conciliation service.
Hunt had initially stated after the strike ballot results were revealed last week that he would be unwilling to enter any form of mitigation process.
At the time, Hunt had said the industrial action, due to start next week, should be cancelled to “avoid harming vulnerable patients”.
The British Medical Association (BMA) had responded strongly to this statement, indicating that the strikes would indeed take place as planned.
And although it seems that Hunt is attempting to avoid strike action, the BMA has maintained its position on the subject, at least for the time being.
The first day of action is Tuesday, starting at 8am and lasting 24 hours.
ACAS is an independent body that can help parties – normally an employer and unions – resolve employment disputes.
Because the two sides in this particular case are simply requesting conciliation, ACAS will merely be required to host the talks rather than offering any meaningful or binding recommendations.
Writing to the leader of the BMA, Dr Mark Porter, Hunt claimed that it was important for the two sides in the dispute to work together.
The Health Secretary claimed that the long running dispute could be resolved amicably were the two sides to work together in a spirit of conciliation and cooperation.
Nonetheless, Hunt also expressed his disappointment that the BMA had refused to agree to the offer that he had made previously.
He also emphasised the potential threat to safety that the strike action that is due to take place next week would represent.
However, despite the apparent intention of Hunt to enter into some form of conciliatory talks, the letter sent by the Health Secretary makes no mention of dropping his previous threat to impose the contract.
The BMA had strongly opposed this policy previously.
Commenting on the letter, the aforementioned Dr Porter stated that the talks would be critical for the future of the NHS.
“We hope to start these talks as soon as possible in order to reach a collaborative agreement for the benefit of patients and the NHS. Importantly, Jeremy Hunt must finally remove his threat of imposition in order to defer Tuesday’s industrial action.”