The British Medical Association has announced today that all junior doctors' strikes which were due to take place later this year have been suspended. It's welcome news for some 6000 patients facing surgery, whose procedures would otherwise have been cancelled on each day of the walkout.
The strikes had been due to take place between the hours of 8am and 5pm on 5, 6, 7, 10 and 11 October; from 14-18 November; and from 5-9 December, but have now been called off.
The organisation said: "This follows feedback from doctors, patients and the public, and discussions with NHS England about the ability of the NHS to maintain a safe service if industrial action planned for October, November and December were to go ahead."
The plan to stage a series of five-day walkouts in protest at a new employment contract came under fire from senior doctors at the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, who expressed serious concerns that patient safety could be compromised during the proposed strikes.
The union, which represents around 34,000 junior doctors, is in dispute with the Department of Health and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt over the controversial new contracts for the medics which would affect pay and conditions.
The newly elected chair of the BMA junior doctor committee, Dr Ellen McCourt, said that, while strike action has been called off, the junior doctors' committee of the British Medical Association remains in dispute with the government over the issue of contracts. "We still oppose the imposition of the contract and are now planning a range of other actions in order to resist it, but patient safety is doctors' primary concern and so it is right that we listen and respond to concerns about the ability of the NHS to maintain a safe service.
"We hope the government will seize this opportunity to engage with junior doctors and 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," she told Sky News.
"If the NHS cannot attract and keep those doctors on whose dedication and professional skills it relies, there will be no recognisable health service in England. Our fight does not end here."
On 5 September the union suspended its planned all-out strike of junior doctors across NHS England between 12 and 16 September, after facing criticism from other medical bodies.
Commenting on the proposed strike action earlier this week, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "The junior doctors' dispute... it is in my view unethical to potentially inflict harm to patients in pursuit of what is a self-interested campaign."
A Department of Health (DoH) spokesperson added that the BMA should be "putting patients first not playing politics in a way that will be immensely damaging for vulnerable patients".