The leader of the British Medical Association repeatedly refused to answer a question on whether a vote for a fresh junior doctors strike, which will see medics walkout for five days, was supported unanimously.
Dr Mark Porter dodged the BBC’s Nick Robinson six times when asked whether there was full support from BMA representatives for the latest action.
The BMA chair also ducked the chance to respond twice to claims his union only backed industrial action by a vote on its most senior council by 16 votes to 14.
Here’s how his grilling by Nick Robinson went this morning:
Listen to the exchange below:
Following the exchange on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Jason Groves, the Daily Mail’s political editor, claimed Porter’s repeated refusal to deny the claims meant he was “pretty much admitting” the strike support passed with a majority of two votes.
He voiced concern at the move, saying it was a “very slim mandate for such a massive step”.
The BMA voted yesterday to stage five consecutive days of strikes later this month, running from September 12 to 16.
It took the step after rejecting the terms of a new contract for junior doctors tabled by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who, after a protracted battled with medics, said the contract would be imposed anyway.
Ellen McCourt, who chairs the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said her union could not “stand idly by” as the date for imposition drew nearer.
She added that forcing a contract on doctors which they did not have confidence in would be bad for patients.
But Hunt rebutted the suggestion, saying the NHS needed to offer a better “consistency of services” at weekends.
“Doctors, even on the other side to me in this dispute, recognise that we need to do better in terms of consistency of services offered at weekends,” he told Sky News on Thursday.
“They should be sitting round and talking with us, not choosing this path of confrontation.”
He also compared himself to the NHS’ founder, Nye Bevan, saying that all health secretaries throughout history had faced opposition from medics.
Theresa May even personally intervened in the debate, accusing junior doctors of “playing politics”.
She said the new contract was “safe for patients”, adding that the NHS had “record levels of funding” and “more doctors than we’ve seen in its history”.
Reaction to news of the strikes has been mixed, with many medics rallying against Hunt but some newspapers blasting the “outrageous” and “disgraceful” industrial action.
NHS staff accused the government of watching the health service “burn” and accused Hunt of showing it “utter disdain”.
But a leader in the Sun read: “The government must rapidly now bracket them with the police and armed forces - and outlaw their strikes.”
While a Telegraph editorial said: “The doctors rightly believe they are held in high regard by the public. But that regard is not limitless, and will be sorely tested if doctors go ahead with needless and selfish industrial action.”
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