Hospital doctors agree NHS pay and jobs deal

Hospital consultants have voted in favour of fundamental reforms of their pay and jobs to end months of brinkmanship with the Government.

Almost a year after rejecting a proposed new NHS contract, senior doctors in England backed a revised deal thrashed out between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Department of Health. The outcome of the ballot was announced yesterday.

The reformed contracts will give consultants pay rises of up to 24 per cent in return for increased commitment to the health service. Salaries will start at £63,000 and the most senior consultants could earn as much as £130,000 from their NHS work alone.

Under the deal, doctors will accept agreed job plans with hospital managers as part of an attempt to ensure their hours are used more efficiently, and evening and weekend work will be voluntary.

Dr Paul Miller, the chairman of the BMA's consultants' committee, said: "This is a good deal for consultants and patients."

Arguments over the new contracts had threatened to derail government reforms of the NHS and undermine attempts to cut waiting lists. Negotiators from Whitehall and the BMA agreed an initial contract last October, but Britain's 30,000 consultants rejected the deal outright in a ballot.

Consultants were concerned the deal would give hospital managers too much power over how they spent their time and dealt with patients, and could force them to work evenings and weekends for no extra pay.

Junior doctors in training to be consultants were also outraged at plans to ban them from doing private work outside their NHS hours for the first seven years after they qualified.

The Government refused to restart negotiations with the BMA. In June, the consultants threatened to take industrial action unless concessions were made. In July, John Reid, the newly appointed Health Secretary, agreed to restart talks.

In the latest ballot, 60 per cent of doctors voted "yes" to the new contracts. The results of separate ballots in Wales and Scotland are expected in the next three weeks. Mr Reid said: "This is a very good result for the NHS and, more importantly, for NHS patients."

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