The 48-hour junior doctors’ strike due to start next Tuesday in England has been called off by the British Medical Association.
This decision comes in the context of negotiations and talks between the doctors’ union and the government.
However, the British Medical Association insisted that this latest manoeuvre in the ongoing dispute did not represent the reaching of a deal between the two parties.
With negotiations continuing to take place, it is still believed that a strike could go ahead on 10th February should the ongoing process fail to broker an agreement.
Despite the fact that the strike has been prevented, the planned industrial action in February is nonetheless considered to be potentially the most disruptive.
This cancelled strike would have seen junior doctors provide emergency cover, whereas the date in February will be a complete walkout.
The decision to call off next week’s strike is good news for patients. Last week more than one in 10 operations were cancelled because of the 24-hour walkout.
But although the news would seem to suggest that a compromise is near, reports have indicated that the two sides are still separated by considerable distance.
Payment for weekend working, career progression and the safeguards being proposed to stop hospitals over-working doctors still remain key sticking points.
The suggestion that the British Medical Association has called off the strike to indicate its concern for patients, while also ensuring that the ongoing talks can continue without disruption.
Commenting on the decision to suspend industrial action, BMA junior doctor committee chair Dr Johann Malawana indeed reflected this perspective.
“The BMA’s aim has always been to deliver a safe, fair junior doctor contract through negotiated agreement. Following junior doctors’ clear message to the government during last week’s action, our focus is now on building on early progress made in the current set of talks. On this basis, the BMA has today taken the decision to suspend the industrial action planned for 26 to 28 January, thereby giving trusts as much notice as possible so as to avoid disruption to patients.”
In addition, Malawana also indicated that there were still significant problems that needed to be overcome if the February walkout is to be avoided.
“It is important to be clear, however, that differences still exist between the BMA and the government on key areas, including the protection of patient safety and doctor’s working lives, and the recognition of unsocial hours. Significant, concrete progress will need to be made if future action, currently planned for 10 February, is to be averted.”
A Department of Health spokesman naturally placed a positive emphasis on this latest decision. “The strike that took place last week was unnecessary while talks are ongoing, so it’s extremely welcome news that the BMA has suspended next week’s action. In the end, the government and junior doctors want to do the same thing by improving patient care at weekends – and we look forward to further constructive discussions.”