It is reported in the Guardian today that Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt is to offer junior doctors an 11% pay rise in a last-minute bid to stop them going on strike just as the NHS is preparing for its most pressured time of year.
Responding to the Guardian's story the BMA, the doctor's representative body, has said that it has not been given any information other than that being released 'piece meal' to the media and challenges the government to provide reasonable assurances and details rather than engaging in "megaphone diplomacy".
The BMA has told the Government that it wants to work with them to agree a new contract, but that it needs a number of concrete assurances in order to do so. These assurances are:
- withdraw the threat to impose the new contract
- proper recognition of unsocial hours as premium time
- no disadvantage for those working unsocial hours compared to the current system
- no disadvantage for those working less than full time and taking parental leave compared to the current system
- pay for all work done
- proper hours safeguards protecting patients and their doctors
Dr Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctors committee chair, says in response to the Guardian report:
“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. What we do know, however, is that Jeremy Hunt has repeatedly changed his position on pay and just last week was caught out trying to gloss over the truth when he said that no doctor would have their pay cut, only hours later to admit that those working the longest hours would in fact see a reduction in pay.
“The BMA and junior doctors have been clear that we want to reach a negotiated agreement with the government on a contract that is good for patients, junior doctors and the NHS. In order to do this we have said, repeatedly, that the government must remove the threat of imposition and provide the concrete assurances junior doctors have asked for on a contract that is safe and fair.
“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. 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.”
According to the Guardian some junior doctors have already rejected Hunt’s offer. One told the them: “The sugar coating is Hunt will increase base pay by 11% but the bitter pill is the cut on our of hours pay. This will result in a net loss of 20-30% regardless of his token 11% increase in base pay. Furthermore, they will abolish incremental pay so we get paid lower rates for longer. He has conceded nothing.”
In an interview with the Independent newspaper at the beginning of October Jeremy Hunt said: “It is not my intention to cut anyone’s pay”. In a subsequent letter to the BMA he said that “average pay for junior doctors will not reduce”.
In a letter last week to the BMA he said that “that no junior doctor will see their pay cut compared to their current contract” but admitted the following day that a “small minority” would see their pay reduced.
If the Secretary of State is genuine about negotiating with the BMA then he needs to be more transparent and stop playing media games. It looks as if Jeremy Hunt is seeking not so much to reach a settlement but to undermine the junior doctor's case. The BMA has repeatedly stated it wants to come to an understanding with the Secretary of State. It is time he stopped playing games and talked to the representatives of the junior doctors.