The Health Secretary has defended imposing a new contract on junior doctors without their agreement– and again blamed the British Medical Association for escalating the dispute.
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper Jeremy Hunt said morale was low in the medical profession and that it had been difficult to reach an agreement on the proposal.
Mr Hunt last week unilaterally imposed the new contract, which junior doctors had rejected during negotiations.
Medics have staged two strike days against the plan, with 98 per cent of those voting in the ballot backing industrial action.
“Right now it’s going to be very difficult for a health secretary to say anything at all that is given a warm round of applause by junior doctors,” he told the paper.
Mr Hunt, who has just launched an inquiry into why junior doctor morale is low, said conditions were difficult because of stressful conditions on weekends changes imposed by the European Working Time Directive.
“I think those two things meant that when there was a contractual dispute – which started with the BMA wrongly telling everyone that the government wanted to cut their pay by between 30 and 50 per cent – it lit a touch paper and I think that is what caused it.”
Mr Hunt claimed last week that 20 NHS chief executives had signed a letter supporting the imposition. An investigation by the Health Service Journal however subsequently found that the vast majority – at least 14 – did not.
The Health Secretary ducked a public event on Friday, apparently for fear he would be challenged by junior doctors about his new policy.
A drinks and canapés fundraiser for Fareham Conservatives was moved to a secret location and doctors who had bought tickets were told it had been cancelled.
The Government says the new contract will improve patient care at the weekends but junior doctors say it will incentivise unsafe staffing rosters and put patient care at risk.
The British Medical Association, which has been leading negotiations on behalf of junior doctors, said it would look at all options available to it in order to prevent the contract from being implemented.
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