Junior doctors and government agree to talks

Junior doctors joined picket lines outside hospitals during a recent strike in January
Two-thirds of junior doctors are members of the British Medical Association [PA Media]

Junior doctors in England have agreed to meet the government for talks with independent mediation in a pay dispute which has run for more than a year, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.

The BMA said it was hoped the talks, which will last up to four weeks, could “help break the logjam”.

There have been no formal talks since negotiations in December collapsed.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it was a “significant step forward”.

Since March 2023 there have been numerous walkouts by junior doctors.

Junior doctors and members of the British Medical Association (BMA) outside St Thomas' Hospital, London, as they took to picket lines for six days during their continuing dispute over pay
There have been 10 walkouts so far by junior doctors since the first one in March last year [PA Media]

There have been few signs before now of any possible resolution of the dispute between the government and junior doctors with both sides seemingly far apart.

The fact both sides are prepared to sit down for talks with an independent mediator, who has not yet been named, suggests a willingness to consider compromise as a way to end the stalemate.

The BMA has asked for a 35% pay rise phased in over a few years.

Ministers awarded an average of just under 9% for the last financial year and have suggested anything higher would be unaffordable.

A key focus of the new talks will be finding a way to resolve these differences over pay.

'Provide a way forward'

An initiative by NHS England announced in April involved promises of more flexibility and choice over doctors’ rotas.

This attempt to improve working conditions for medics, backed by ministers, was intended to address some of the issues behind the dispute.

The process will not involve the conciliation service ACAS and the outcome will not be binding on either side.

In a joint statement the co-chairs of the junior doctors’ committee Dr Rob Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said they have been “looking for ways of restoring trust” and the involvement of a mediator raised hopes of reaching “a credible solution as soon as possible”.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said she was pleased mediation will take place.

“I am hopeful that it will provide a way forward,” she added.

There is no guarantee of a successful outcome to the talks and the BMA has a mandate to stage further strike action.

Last month consultants in England agreed to a deal to end their pay dispute with the government.

In a separate dispute the Welsh Government is in talks over pay with junior doctor representatives.

Over in Northern Ireland a 48-hour strike by junior doctors is planned for next week.