Deal offers junior doctors pay rise and cut in hours

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BRITAIN'S 35,000 junior doctors yesterday won a cut in their hours and a boost to basic pay in a deal designed to stave off the threat of industrial action in the NHS during the winter.

The three-year deal, which is to be put to the full junior doctors' committee of the British Medical Association for its approval today, rules out the prospect of any doctor being required to work more than 56 hours a week and the practice of paying overtime at half of the normal rate will be ended. One in six juniors is currently contracted to work more than 56 hours a week and some are paid as little as pounds 4.02 an hour for working bank holidays and weekends.

Under the deal, the details of which will be released today, extra cash will be channelled into improving working conditions, reducing hours, and consolidating overtime payments and allowances into basic pay. Doctors in the most hard-pressed posts, such as surgery, will receive the highest pay.

The deal will also free juniors from menial tasks such as filling in forms, portering and clerical work, and it will reorganise services to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of staff to cope with demand. Accommodation and catering services in hospitals are also earmarked for improvement under the deal.

While the BMA hailed the deal as a guarantee of extra cash for juniors, the health department insisted that it brought only a change in juniors' contracts and that the award of any pay rise was a matter for the doctors' pay review body. A health department spokesman said: "It is totally affordable within current spending levels. There is no new money. We will move in steps towards a version of the payment system which will recognise the intensity of juniors' work."

A BMA spokesman said the increased spending could have knock-on effects for other staff, such as consultants, and the ramifications would need to be explored. "It is an increased investment in junior doctors to help get their hours down, whether they [the health department] say there is new money or not."

The deal, agreed after days of intense negotiations, came less than 24 hours before the BMA juniors' committee was due to vote on a ballot on industrial action. Almost 200 meetings have been held recently in hospitals around the country to build support for the campaign for better pay and conditions and to prepare juniors for industrial action.

Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, said: "I am delighted to have been able to reach an agreement on the basis of a new contract for junior doctors that is fit for the next century, which provides fair rewards for the most hard-pressed doctors and supports our drive to reduce hours and improve working conditions.

"Better motivated doctors, working in better, safer condition and in more flexible ways is a good deal for doctors, patients and tax-payers."

Andrew Hobart, chairman of the BMA's junior doctors' committee, said: "I am delighted that an understanding has been reached on a new contract for junior doctors which will guarantee safe working hours. It will provide a more robust measure for bringing down the hours and a real incentive to trusts to reorganise work patterns."