Junior doctors are staging a “political” strike, Jeremy Hunt has said, as medics begin a 48-hour walkout over a controversial new contract.
The Health Secretary showed no signs of conciliatory language, describing the strike “very, very bleak day for the NHS” as junior doctors walked out of emergency rooms for the first time in NHS history.
Mr Hunt has said he will unilaterally introduce a new contract for junior doctors. The medics, who voted by 98 per cent to strike, say the policy will put patient safety at risk by incentivising unsafe shift patterns.
The Health Secretary says the contract will help improve NHS care at weekends. Both Mr Hunt’s proposals and those of the British Medical Association are cost-neutral.
“The Government has been unable to negotiate sensibly and reasonably with the BMA over a manifesto commitment for a seven-day NHS,” Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The last thing we are doing is itching for a fight. If you look at the evidence of just how hard we’ve listened to settle this.
“Insofar as it is a political strike I do think there are some elements at the very top of the BMA who are absolutely refusing to compromise.”
Unidentified Downing Street sources told the BBC yesterday that some junior doctors wanted to “topple” the Government.
BMA junior doctor committee chair Dr Johann Malawana however said doctors would return to work if the Government returned to negotiations and dropped unilateral imposition of the contract.
“No doctor wants to take any action,” he said.
“They want to be in work, treating patients, but by refusing to get back around the negotiating table the government has left them with no choice but to take short-term action to protect patient care in the long term.”
Today’s strike is the first all-out stoppage to include emergency medical care – previous strikes have left A&E rooms in place.
The BMA stressed yesterday that emergency care would still be available – but provided by senior doctors.
Junior doctors walked off the job at 8am this morning and will return at 5pm in the evening. They will do the same on Wednesday.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies