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Junior doctors' dispute: Talks resuming in bid to stop strikes

Talks aimed at avoiding further NHS strikes in England are due to resume later, amid warnings the government could impose its controversial new contract on junior doctors.

The British Medical Association (BMA) and the government are to begin two days of talks at 10:00 GMT, the conciliation service Acas said.

The dispute is over weekend pay, career progression, and fears of overworking.

A 48-hour walkout will start on 26 January if no agreement is found.

Junior doctors returned to work at 08:00 GMT on Wednesday following the end of their first 24-hour walkout, which led to the cancellation of about 3,300 operations.

Two further strikes are planned, the second of which - on 10 February - would involve a refusal to take part in emergency care.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned the first strike as "wholly unnecessary".

Ministers argue the government's new contract will improve patient care at the weekend, but the doctors' union says the impact on safety would be unacceptable.

BMA council chairman Dr Mark Porter said there was "not just one remaining issue" regarding disagreement over weekend pay.

He said: "There are some serious issues about patient safety and recognition of junior doctors' contributions that need to be sorted here."

The government's new head negotiator, Sir David Dalton, pledged to "engage with the BMA team directly and listen to their outstanding concerns".

However, Norman Smith, the BBC's assistant political editor, said government sources were "adamant" that if no deal was reached then its new contract would be "imposed" on junior doctors.

"This could begin as early as the summer for new doctors joining the NHS and would then be rolled out among the existing 50,000 junior doctors," our correspondent said.

What is the dispute about?

· The row between junior doctors and the government is over a new contract

· Talks broke down in 2014, but the dispute has escalated since the summer after ministers said they would impose the deal

· Ministers offered doctors an 11% rise in basic pay last year, but that was offset by curbs to other elements of the pay package, including payments for unsociable hours - they have maintained there is not extra money for junior doctor pay

· The government says the changes are needed to create more seven-days services, but the BMA warns safeguards to keep a lid on excessive hours are being weakened and also has concerns about career progression and weekend pay

· A 48-hour strike is scheduled for Tuesday, 26 January - emergency cover will be provided

An all-out junior doctors' strike is planned for Wednesday 10 February - emergency cover will not be provided


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