Downing Street rejects calls for Acas to help end junior doctor dispute

Downing Street has again rejected calls for conciliation service Acas to be brought in to broker a deal with junior doctors.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said on Wednesday evening that a third party was needed to bring the Government and the British Medical Association (BMA) together for talks to halt any future strikes.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There are no plans for this.

“That is something we have had in place for all other talks with unions and has been honoured by other unions.

“As the Health Secretary has said before, we need to move away from the starting position of 35%.”

Sir Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care, also told MPs on Thursday that third-party mediation was “not the Government’s preferred route, that is not something we would be taking up”.

Acas has said it is “well prepared and ready to help”.

Chairman of the BMA council, Professor Philip Banfield, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday that the union was not “entrenched” in its position and “there is no number set in stone” when it comes to a 35% rise.

“Do we have any preconditions? No, we don’t. This is all coming from the Government side who want to negotiate from a position where they have already decided what the answer is.”

Asked about the BMA pay demand for 35%, he said: “People are tied up on this 35% figure.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

“This Government does not want to sit around the table. It does not want to have any kind of independent arbitration of this because it’s worried that it might cost it money.”

Pressed on whether the BMA would consider suspending strikes and entering talks, Prof Banfield said: “We haven’t actually got a strike announced at this point in time.

“So here is the time to get in the room and talk. It can be done rapidly.”

Also speaking to Today, Professor Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, urged both sides to show some flexibility and return to the negotiating table.

She said “patients are suffering” as the dispute continues.

“It needs to be brought to a conclusion, and before you can even start to have negotiations you have to have preliminary talks to set the parameters.

“What worries us as an academy – and we are very much not a trade union, we are the membership body for doctors – is that there doesn’t seem to be any preliminary talks about talks.

“We’re urging some flexibility on both sides – the junior doctors committee (of the BMA) and of course the Department of Health and Social Care.”

She said it “doesn’t matter who or what” the third-party intermediary is, things just needed to move forward.

Prof Stokes-Lampard said she was “gravely concerned” for patients who were missing procedures or facing delays and who were “in pain” or suffering.

She added: “We have the longest waiting lists in NHS history, for reasons we all understand – the pandemic compounded by over a decade of underinvestment in our service – and we have a body of junior doctors who are hurting.

She said doctors were balancing the dilemma of the “long-term harm” done to the NHS by chronic underfunding, with the “short-term harm” caused by the strikes.

She added: “What we do want is for both parties to make some flexibility, make some compromise.

“Come out of your entrenched positions. And please, please start talking. Whatever it takes to start talking, let’s do it, because this won’t be resolved without talks.”

The intervention by the academy came as health chiefs fear the prospect of unions including the BMA and RCN co-ordinating strikes or holding them in sequence, which would have a massive impact on the NHS.

Ambulance workers from Unite announced on Wednesday that they would walk out alongside nurses and teachers on May 2.

An RCN nurse strike is already scheduled from April 30 to May 2 following a ballot which rejected a 5% pay deal.

A BMA member on a picket line
Doctors on a picket line (Stuart Boulton/Alamy/PA)

That was on top of thousands of appointments already cancelled or delayed due to strikes by other unions, including the RCN.

Analysis by the PA news agency shows some 483,085 hospital appointments and procedures in England have been rescheduled due to strike action since December.

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