Junior doctors are to be offered an 11 percent pay rise in the hope of reducing the simmering tension over changes to their working hours and avoid a walkout. The health secretary has written to junior doctors to reveal the pay hike ahead of a strike ballot, which is scheduled for Thursday.
The move would represent the first firm offer to the doctors by the government, which is seeking to create a “seven day” national health service. According to Jeremy Hunt, the deal will make three-quarters of trainee doctors better off, while pay for the rest would be protected.
Hunt told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning he hoped the British Medical Association (BMA) would "honor and respect" the result of the general election that saw a Conservative majority.
The health secretary said the BMA had "refused to talk and balloted for industrial action".
"So I thought that the fair thing to do given that and that ballot papers will be arriving through people's letter boxes tomorrow morning, is to say that they clearly don't want to negotiate so I need to put out what our offer is so doctors can make their own judgement," he said.
Although the minister is unlikely to budge on his plan to stop weekends being treated as “antisocial hours,” the government has indicated extra pay may be possible for weekend staff, a move that Downing Street hopes will enable them to scrap the current banding system, which pays according to hours work and how often doctors are on call.
According to the government, the 11 percent pay increase will offset losses incurred by scrapping the banding, while the average working week of 48 hours is to remain, with the top limit reduced to 72 from 91 hours. Flexible pay premiums are to be extended to more specialties, which struggle to attract staff, including A&E and general practice.
The move comes as the British Medical Association prepares to ballot its members about their willingness to take industrial action over Christmas. Doctors have argued that reclassifying weekends, as normal hours would lead to a 30 to 40 percent pay cut.
Responding to Hunt's offer, Dr Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctors committee chair, said he needs to see “full detail” of Hunt’s proposal. “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,” he said.
“We are clear that without the assurances we require, the BMA will be left with little option but to continue with our plans to ballot members," Malawana added. "The government have so far failed to provide these reasonable assurances, preferring instead to engage in megaphone diplomacy and plough ahead with plans to impose a contract that would be bad for patients as well as junior doctors.”