Junior doctors have called off a series of 5 day strikes that were scheduled to take place over the next three months.
The walkouts, which were planned to take place in October, November and December, represented the latest escalation of the dispute between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Department of Health over proposed contract changes for junior medics in England.
An earlier walkout planned for September was previously called off after fears were raised over patient safety.
Under the proposed contract, the basic rate of pay would increase but payments for working at weekends and unsociable hours would be reduced.
Dr Ellen McCourt, Chairwoman of the BMA’s Junior Doctor’s committee, told the BBC that the decision to suspend the strikes was ‘in light of feedback from doctors, patients and the public, and following a passionate, thoughtful and wide-ranging debate amongst junior doctors’.
She further insisted that although patient safety was a doctor’s primary concern, the BMA remained opposed to the new contract proposals and was organising a range of other actions to express this opposition.
Earlier this week, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned the strikes, saying that it was in his view ‘unethical to potentially inflict harm to patients in pursuit of what is a self-interested campaign‘.
After negotiations between the two sides in May, it initially appeared that a deal was likely to be reached. The government later said in July that it would impose the new contracts after BMA members voted to reject the deal by 58% to 42%.
Dr McCourt said she hoped the suspension of the strikes would represent an opportunity for the government to engage with junior doctors. She urged ministers to ‘listen to the range of voices from across the NHS raising concerns about doctors’ working lives and the impact of the contract on patient care.’.