It would be reasonable for Jeremy Hunt to unilaterally impose a controversial new contract on junior doctors, the body representing NHS Trusts has said.
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents over 90 per cent of NHS Trusts, said Mr Hunt should “bring this to a conclusion”.
“I think the ideal conclusion would be for employers to make a fair and final reasonable offer and for the BMA to accept it,” NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“If the BMA doesn’t accept it, I think our members are saying to us that the Secretary of State has to find a way to bring this to a conclusion.
“If the BMA won’t accept a fair and reasonable offer then, yes, it is legitimate and sensible for the Secretary of State to consider imposition.”
David Cameron has not ruled out imposing the contract, arguing that refusing to do would be to give the BMA a “veto and block over progress” in the NHS.
Mr Hunt says that abandoning the proposed contract change would be to U-turn on one of his party’s manifesto commitments to a so-called “seven day NHS”.
Labour's shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander asked the Government not to unilaterally impose the contract, arguing that it would lead to long-term industrial action.
Junior doctors walked out on strike for the second time today after negotiations between the BMA, NHS managers and the Department of Health hit an impasse.
The strike, which will last 24 hours and which does not cover emergency care, has already cancelled around 2,800 operations, the Government says.
Picket lines have been forming outside hospitals across England this morning. The stoppage was backed by 98 per cent of junior doctors who voted in the strike ballot.
The industrial action is being taken over the new contract proposed by Mr Hunt, which would re-define anti-social hours and make it cheaper for hospitals to roster doctors on weekends and evenings.
The Government says this will improve care at the weekends and evenings but junior doctors worry that it will affect patient safety by encouraging unsafe shift patterns, and also that doctors who work the very longest hours will lose out financially.
Mr Hunt has also been personally criticised by the British Medical Journal for citing studies it published and claiming they indicated that NHS care was dangerous at weekends.
The journal’s editor accused the Health Secretary of misusing the studies and said they could not be used to justify his conclusion.
A number of polls have shown widespread public support for junior doctors in the dispute.
A Department of Health spokesperson said this morning: “This strike is completely unnecessary. It is very disappointing that tens of thousands of patients and NHS staff have been inconvenienced by the BMA.
“We have now agreed the vast majority of the contract detail with the BMA but it’s a great shame that they have broken the agreement we made with ACAS to discuss the outstanding issue of Saturday working and pay for unsocial hours.”
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