Jeremy Hunt 'to blame for hospital operation cancellations despite junior doctor strike being called off'

Although last minute talks succeeded in suspending strike action, they came too late to prevent major disruption

Jonathan Owen
Tuesday 01 December 2015 18:46 GMT
The Health Secretary described the decision to call off the strike as a 'victory for common sense'
The Health Secretary described the decision to call off the strike as a 'victory for common sense' (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

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Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is to blame for thousands of operations and appointments being cancelled despite a strike by junior doctors being called off, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).

Although last minute talks on 30 November succeeded in suspending strike action, they came too late to prevent major disruption. Around 600 operations and procedures were cancelled, along with some 3,500 outpatient appointments.

At Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 90 operations were cancelled and 565 appointments. At least one in seven operations and appointments were cancelled at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, and Airedale NHS Foundation Trust had to reschedule 80 per cent of planned operations.

Dr Barbara Hakin, national director of commissioning operations at NHS England, said: “We can only apologise for the disruption caused to anyone who has had their operations cancelled.”

In a statement on 1 December, a BMA spokesman said: “Responsibility for disruption to patients lies squarely at the door of the Secretary of State... We had been pushing to reach an agreement sooner to avoid disruption to patients, but it was the Secretary of State who waited almost a week to enter into talks.”

They added: “We regret the inevitable disruption that this has caused, but a return to genuine negotiations is preferable to the imposition of a new contract or industrial action.”

The Government and the BMA have agreed to continue talks at conciliation service Acas until 13 January. Junior doctors are being offered an 11 per cent pay rise, but face reductions in extra pay for working in the evening or during the weekend. And if talks break down in the coming weeks, strike action could still take place.

Many doctors have been angered at Mr Hunt describing the decision to call off the 24-hour strike as a “victory for common sense.” Responding to the health secretary’s tweet, posted on 30 November, Tom Bircher, a trainee doctor, said: “Lots of cancelled operations because of your obstinacy, you should have agreed to negotiate weeks ago. Shame on you.” One GP, Philip Cumberlidge, described Mr Hunt’s comment as “inflammatory and hateful,” while Ollie Handley, a medical student at Southampton University, tweeted: “making snide remarks regarding common sense is hardly conducive to meaningful negotiations is it?”

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