Theresa May has accused junior doctors of “playing politics” in the dispute over the forced imposition of a new contract on them.
Junior doctors say the new contract, which is being imposed by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, will harm patient safety and exacerbate a staffing crisis in the NHS.
The Government says the new deal, which doctors rejected in a ballot, will help deliver a manifesto commitment to improved care on weekends.
The Health Secretary on Thursday morning blamed doctors for patients left in “pain” during the strike, which will take place from 8.00am to 5.00pm every day from 12 to 16 September. More dates are expected to follow.
The Prime Minister at lunchtime backed Mr Hunt’s imposition, saying he was an “excellent health secretary”.
“The Government is putting patients first, the BMA should be putting patients first - not playing politics,” she said.
The PM added that the deal was “safe for patients”, adding that the NHS had “record levels of funding” and “more doctors than we've seen in its history”.
The all-out industrial action was triggered after rank-and-file doctors rejected a deal recommended by the British Medical Association junior doctors committee leadership and the government.
The stoppage represents a dramatic escalation in response from the BMA, which has previously conducted rolling strikes.
“If you need a hip replacement that will mean you’re in pain, that’s why you’ve been given the NHS right to have a hip replacement and if you’re told you’re going to have to wait another month or two months that pain is going to continue,” Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“People will rightly ask why the BMA, who said only in May this was a good deal for patients, a good deal for doctors, good for the NHS, are now saying it’s such a bad deal that they want to inflict the worst doctors’ strike in NHS history.”
Though Mr Hunt said he would do “anything we can do” to stop the strike, he said he would not negotiate over the contract, which doctors say will harm patient safety.
“The judgment that I have to take is that were I to do that would that bring this dispute further to a resolution of further away?” he said.
“My judgment is to proceed with the contracts that was negotiated in May and supported by the BMA leadership but to say we are willing to talk.”
The BMA said doctors would call off the strike if the Government reopened negotiations over the contract and stopped its imposition.
“We have a simple ask of the Government: stop the imposition,” BMA junior doctor committee chair Ellen McCourt said.
“If it agrees to do this, junior doctors will call off industrial action.”
“This is not a situation junior doctors wanted to find themselves in. We want to resolve this dispute through talks, but in forcing through a contract that junior doctors have rejected and which they don’t believe is good for their patients or themselves, the Government has left them with no other choice.
“Junior doctors still have serious concerns with the contract, particularly that it will fuel the workforce crisis, and that it fails to treat all doctors fairly.”
She added that “genuine efforts” to resolve the dispute had been “met with an unwillingness to engage and, at times, deafening silence from the health secretary”.
Mr Hunt has remained as Health Secretary during the dispute despite a sweeping Cabinet reshuffle by Theresa May.
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