The dispute between the BMA Junior Doctors and the Government is one where mediation should be attempted asap. Were it a commercial dispute, mediation would probably already have been tried and, with a high success rate (70% – 80% often reported), a resolution might well have been achieved and the recent strikes avoided.

‘Mediation’ is a structured process by which two or more parties to a dispute attempt, on a voluntary basis, to reach an agreed settlement of their dispute with the assistance of an independent and impartial mediator. The mediator cannot impose a solution, but uses his or her training and skills to establish the parties’ perceptions and needs, so as to identify common ground and help them achieve a “good enough” outcome.

It is not a sign of weakness to propose mediation, as is sometimes thought by those in the thick of a dispute. On the contrary, willingness to present your case in a mediation often shows that you have confidence in your position. It can also show a maturity of outlook and, where others are being affected by the dispute, a sense of responsibility.

There is no prescribed method for initiating a mediation. A simple approach is for one party to write to the other to propose that they try to solve their dispute by mediation and to request the other party to select one out of list of three trained mediators. If no-one on the list is acceptable, the parties can request one of several mediation providers to suggest further possible mediators. Once a mediator is chosen, he or she will enter into a mediation agreement with the parties to set out the agreed basis for the mediation, including provisions for confidentiality and the like. After exchanging written position papers, the parties will usually meet with the mediator both together and separately, perhaps over the course of a single day or longer. If a resolution can be agreed, the mediator will assist the parties to record it in writing.

Either party in the present dispute could send a mediation proposal to the other, secure in the knowledge that, if it is refused, that refusal will not go down well in the “court” of public opinion.