Doctors are to be challenged by Andrew Lansley to make sure patient safety is not put at risk by their plan to strike over changes to their pensions.
The Health Secretary will write to the British Medical Association this week, calling on doctors to be "true to their word and protect patients".
A ballot of more than 100,000 doctors showed a clear majority in favour of protests, on a turnout of 50 per cent. The industrial action on 21 June will be the first walkout by doctors since 1975. The dispute centres on plans to raise their retirement age from 65 to 68 and to increase pension contributions.
A BMA spokesman said: "We realise the action will disrupt the NHS, but the absolute top priority is patient safety. It won't be massively dissimilar to a bank holiday service. This is the only option left to try to get a fair deal."
However, the Department of Health suggests 25,000 elective procedures will be affected, while more than one million GP appointments will be cancelled. "We don't quite understand why the BMA is taking action and putting pensions before patients – what do they expect their strike to achieve?" said a source, pointing to comments made by TV doctor Mark Porter, a leading BMA figure, who suggested in an online forum: "The point of the action is to cause pressure by disrupting services."
The DoH also disputes claims that it has not entered properly into negotiations with doctors, saying officials met the BMA on 23 occasions between last August and March.