Jeremy Hunt will pause the introduction of the proposed junior contract for five days to allow further talks about how to settle the dispute. In a letter to the Academy of Medical Royal College, the health secretary said the government is "willing to play our part" to help avoid further industrial action and will pause the imposition of the contract for five days from 9 May.
The decision arrived after the college urged a five-day pause in the process of imposition of the highly disputed contract, as well as a five-day suspension of the threat of further industrial action so talks can be resumed.
The suspension of the imposition of the contracts, due to take hold in August, and any further talk of strike action was only agreed by Hunt if all sides agree to the main "outstanding" issue of Saturday pay. The move arrived after junior doctors staged the first ever all-out strike since the NHS began in 1948, as they walk out on both emergency and routine care for 18 hours on 26 April.
Writing to Professor Dame Sue Bailey, Chair of the Academy of Medical Colleges, Hunt said: "I have already made it clear that we are happy to address with the British Medical Association (BMA) a range of non-contractual issues. I would therefore expect that the discussion of the issues will need to be focused on the areas that the Junior Doctors Committee (JDC) of the BMA,and NHS Employers, agreed were outstanding in February, and not revisiting the 90% of issues that were agreed, including the cost neutrality of the contract."
Dr Johann Malawana, the BMA's junior doctor chair, said: "Junior doctors have said since the outset that we want to reach a negotiated agreement, and have repeatedly urged the government to re-enter talks. As suggested by the academy, we are keen to restart talks with an open mind. It is critical to find a way forward on all the outstanding issues – which are more than just pay – and hope that a new offer is made that can break the impasse."
Bailey added: "A five-day pause without 'ifs, buts or maybes' and with both sides in the dispute publicly committing to a serious attempt to reach a resolution through genuine dialogue is obviously the only way out of this impasse.
"Before either side does anything else, all the 22 Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties are unanimously calling on the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and the Chair of the BMA's Junior Doctors' Committee, Johann Malawana, to take a deep breath, dial down the rhetoric and get back to the table for talks facilitated, perhaps, by a senior independent figure."