The health secretary has said he is disappointed with the decision of the British Medical Association (BMA) to strike later this month. The BMA announced the industrial action on 4 January after a breakdown in talks with the government over pay for unsocial hours.

The walkouts will take place 12 January, 13 January, 28 January and 10 February.

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt said: "It is a very disappointing outcome because we had 16 areas of disagreement and we think we found a solution on 15 of the 16. The one area that wasn't resolved was pay for unsocial hours, which we were prepared to negotiate on. But instead of negotiating on, the BMA have chosen to walk out of the talks and call industrial action.

"The reality is that we want to offer patients the same high quality care in the NHS every single day of the week, and in the last six weeks alone we've had two more studies showing that mortality rates are still higher at weekends," the MP for South West Surrey added.

The planned industrial action follows a cancelled strike by junior doctors in December, after NHS England promised not to introduce controversial new contracts to the medics.

Mark Porter, the council chair of the BMA, said: "The government has repeatedly dragged its feet throughout this process, initially rejecting our offer of talks and failing to make significant movement during negotiations. We sincerely regret the disruption that industrial action will cause, but junior doctors have been left with no option. It is because the government's proposals would be bad for patient care as well as junior doctors in the long term that we are taking this stand."

It is thought the government had offered junior doctors an 11% pay rise to avert the action.