Junior doctors' contracts: an introduction to the dispute

Published: 29 Sep 2016

In brief

Negotiations in May resulted in a contract for junior doctors being agreed between the government, the British Medical Association (BMA) and NHS Employers. But members of the BMA voted against it. The government is going to phase the new contract in from October 2016. The BMA had announced multiple strikes before the end of the year, but has since suspended them.

Negotiations between the British Medical Association (BMA), NHS Employers and the government over new junior doctors' contracts began in October 2013. In November 2015 members of the BMA voted to strike over their continuing disagreement with the government.

After a number of strikes, a new contract was agreed in May 2016

Following two strikes in January and February 2016 the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, said he would introduce the new contract in August. This led to more strikes in March and April. At the start of May a “pause” in introducing the new contracts was agreed to and talks restarted.

The BMA, NHS Employers and the Health Secretary agreed a new contract on 18 May.

Junior doctors voted against it, but the government announced it would be introduced

BMA members had their say on the new contract in a referendum on 5 July. 68% of those eligible took part in the vote.

Of these, 42% voted to accept the new contract and 58% voted to reject it.

The Health Secretary announced that the contract agreed in May would be phased in over 12 months, starting in October 2016.

Junior doctors have taken legal action

A group of junior doctors has set up the campaign group Justice for Health to go to court over the Health Secretary’s decision to impose the contract.

The judicial review hearing started on 19 September and a judgement was given on the 28th. MrJustice Green decided against the junior doctors, who had argued that the decision to introduce the contract was unlawful because of the way it was made and the evidence it was based on.

This was separate to another judicial review which was launched by the BMA in March 2016, but was dropped in May following the agreement with the government over the contract.

More strikes have been planned, but suspended

Dr McCourt announced on 11 August that the Junior Doctors Committee had voted to officially reject the new contract. It also called for another round of strikes, which was confirmed by the BMA Council on 31 August.

Junior doctors wanted to stage four separate strikes before the end of the year. The first was planned from 12 to 16 September, but this was suspended by the BMA which said that the notice for the strike was not enough to ensure patient safety.

The BMA still planned to go ahead with further rounds of strikes between October and December 2016, from 8am to 5pm over multiple days. But on 26 September it announced that these wouldn't go ahead after all.

The Junior Doctors Committee decided to "suspend industrial action while planning other actions over the coming weeks". It cited "overriding concern about patient safety" as the main reason for that decision.

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