Discussions between the British Medical Association (BMA) and Government officials continue in an attempt to resolve the long-running dispute over changes to doctors’ pay and working conditions. Junior doctors are planning further industrial action over the Government’s failure to address their concerns about weekend pay, contractual safeguards to protect them from being over worked, and proper recognition for those working long, intense and unsocial hours. Ministers argue that the current arrangements are outdated and that changes are needed to improve standards of weekend care.

The first strike, following failed reconciliation talks, took place on Tuesday 12 January. Four thousand scheduled operations and more than 20,000 outpatient appointments were postponed. Health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, condemned the first strike as “wholly unnecessary” and government sources were “adamant” that, if no deal could be reached, the new contract would be “imposed” on junior doctors as early as this summer. 

If a resolution between the BMA and Government officials cannot be made soon, another walk out, this time for 48 hours, will take place on 26 January 2016. Emergency care will be prioritised but it is estimated that the consequences will be greater than were experienced earlier this week. Health officials estimate that the vast majority of 31,000 operations scheduled per day may have to be cancelled, as well as thousands of operations during the days before and after the strike action in a bid to “clear the decks”. 

An NHS England spokesman said that plans have been put in place to “deal with a range of disruptions” and the patient safety is the “top priority”.

Arran Macleod, a clinical negligence solicitor at Penningtons Manches, said: “While we understand that trust between doctors and the Government has been severely damaged, patient safety remains paramount. Although plans may be in place to maintain emergency treatment, strike action will inevitably put patients at risk. Larger than normal patient backlogs will be unavoidable and patients may not receive treatment when they need it.

“It can often be small delays in the provision of treatment which can cause a patient’s outcome to change from good to devastating. To minimise this risk of harm to patients, the BMA and the Government have a responsibility to resolve their dispute before further strike action is taken.”