It’s a season of U-turns for the government as Jeremy Hunt will reportedly offer junior doctors an 11 per cent pay rise. In an attempt to head off strike action by the British Medical Association, who are balloting 45,000 junior doctors today, the Health Secretary will make a final offer to increase to their basic pay in an effort to compensate for cuts to overtime. In an article for ConservativeHome, Hunt says the new deal is vital for delivering a seven-day health service and junior doctors should acknowledge this manifesto commitment and work with the Department for Health to see through the changes:
‘A reduction in Saturday working rates will be offset by an 11 per cent increase in basic pay, which will mean doctors’ pensions pots also go up. Around three quarters of doctors moving to the new contract will get a pay increase, with the remainder getting pay protection compared to their current contract. Tired doctors are bad for patient safety, so we are cutting the maximum working week from 91 to 72 hours, and introducing a new maximum shift pattern of four night shifts or five long day shifts – compared to the current contract which permits seven consecutive night shifts or 12 consecutive long day shifts.’
But the BMA remains unhappy about both the deal and Hunt's handling of the situation. Dr Johann Malawana, the junior doctors committee chair at the BMA, says the Health Secretary has ‘repeatedly changed his position’ and is ‘glossing over the truth’ about doctors getting a pay cut:
'Junior doctors need facts, not piecemeal announcements and we need to see the full detail of this latest, eleventh hour offer to understand what, in reality, it will mean for junior doctors.
'We have repeatedly asked for such detail in writing from the Secretary of State, but find, instead, that this has been released to media without sharing it with junior doctors’ representatives'.
The danger for Hunt (and the government) is that this row becomes as toxic as tax credits did for George Osborne. The public has clearly voted to reform the NHS but they are ignore the concerns of striking doctors. If junior doctors do vote for action, it would lead to a minimal service, akin to what the NHS provides on Christmas Day. With the health service approaching its busiest time of the year, both sides know the stakes are high. It’s no surprise that Hunt ends his ConHome piece today with a plea to the doctors: ‘I am appealing to them again today to choose talks not strikes, and work with us to deliver the safest and highest standards of care available anywhere in the world’.