Around 38,000 junior doctors may strike on 13 January 2016 after British Medical Association (BMA) if talks with the NHS England and government fail to yield an agreement on pay and work hours. Parties involved in the dispute are said to not be optimistic about ending the stalemate after three weeks of negotiations.
They are due to meet on Monday (4 January) before the British Medical Association (BMA) comes up with a final decision on going off work. The strike, if it happens, would be the first by junior doctors in 40 years.
Dr Johann Malawana, leader of the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee (JDC), said that some progress had been made during recent negotiations involving the BMA, NHS and the government but "there are still a couple of absolute areas of disagreement".
"It is therefore absolutely clear that should we not be able to reach an acceptable outcome by 4pm on 4 January, the BMA will need to commence serving notice, as per its mandate, to the NHS for industrial action the following week." The BMA must issue a statement on how long the doctors plan to strike and the nature of the withdrawal of labour.
One source told The Guardian: "Whatever has been negotiated up until now, there are two or three fundamental sticking points that the Department of Health and NHS Employers aren't able to concede. And if they can't concede those points by Monday, there will be industrial action. The BMA is already preparing itself for that, probably starting on 13 January."
Danny Mortimer, the chief executive of NHS Employers, which is working with the government, is not happy with the strike call, telling The Guardian: "Sensitive negotiations are not a spectator sport and I still do not propose to provide a running commentary on their progress since the Acas agreement of 30 November. I am disappointed therefore that this BMA communication has unexpectedly appeared.
"Talks with the BMA about the proposed new contract for junior doctors have been adjourned until 4 and 5 January 2016, though work to refine details is continuing in the interim between members of our teams. We believed that we have seen progress and we will resume discussions in the new year," said Mortimer.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said, "We have been making good progress with the BMA and look forward to further discussions in the new year." Junior doctors had earlier decided to strike on 16 December, but it was called off at the last moment following the intervention of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).
The new contracts charted out by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, have invited stiff opposition from junior doctors because they cut salaries and overtime pay. Junior doctors representing the BMA said they would have to work for considerably longer hours to earn the same salaries if the new contracts come into effect.
Nine NHS boards in Scotland disclosed that their staff would be forced to work 12 days straight before taking a day off once the contract is implemented. The JDC says their members are already expected to work long hours.