Talks between the government and a junior doctors' leader at the British Medical Association (BMA) concluded without any progress being made on the contractual row. Hot on the heels of 30 September's impasse, thousands of people will protest outside parliament to rally against changes to NHS junior doctor contracts.
Discussions between Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and BMA Junior Doctor Chair Johann Malawana yielded no progress, paving the way for potential industrial action, with the professional body previously announcing that its junior doctors will be balloted for a strike.
"We have consistently been clear that junior doctors are not prepared to agree contract changes that would risk patients' safety and doctors' wellbeing. The anger and frustration of doctors who attended the rally in London on Monday (28 September) night were a clear demonstration of their determination," Dr Malwana said in a statement on the meeting. "Until the Government is willing to give the BMA the concrete assurances we require, we will continue with the action junior doctors are demanding."
The main sticking point (there are many complex issues) in the fierce row over contracts is the proposal to reduce the number of working hours categorised as "unsociable". At present, doctors are paid more when they work outside of the normal working hours that run from 7am to 7pm, Monday to Friday. Under the new terms, normal working hours would be reclassified and extended to 7am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday.
For the government's part, Hunt says the changes are needed in order to reduce the estimated 11,000 extra deaths per year as a result of being admitted to hospital over the weekend, compared to weekdays. Doctors say the reforms will slash their salaries by up to 30% and puts them in an untenable dilemma of choosing between their family and working for the NHS, which they cherish. It could also lead to an exodus among healthcare professionals to countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, as they seek greater work-life balance.
Following a rally outside Downing Street on 28 September, the demonstration will take place on 17 October and it is scheduled to begin at 2pm on Parliament Square. A Facebook group has been set up, saying the event's "organisers are pressing ahead to make a bigger, better, louder effort to make all our concerns about the junior doctor contract heard! Junior doctors, consultants, nurses, families, medical students and friends − all are invited to support the NHS we all care so much about." So far, 7,500 people have registered as "attending".