The Conservative government, NHS England and the British Medical Association (BMA) are back around the table on 4 December in a bid to avoid an historic strike of junior doctors. The parties are holding private talks after the BMA, which represents around 30,000 junior medics, suspended its strike action in December.
But the union is still in dispute with health secretary Jeremy Hunt over his proposal to change junior doctors' contracts. The medics have warned that the top Tory's reforms could put patients in danger and leave junior doctors worse off, even after Hunt offered the NHS workers an 11% pay hike.
The medics were due to provide only emergency care on 1 December and stage a total walkout from 8am to 5pm GMT on 8 and 16 December after 98% of junior doctor BMA members backed a strike. But the NHS' decision not to impose the new contracts at mitigation service Acas saw the BMA suspend the action.
"We have been making good progress with the BMA, and look forward to further discussions in the new year," a Department of Health spokeswoman said.
"As we have consistently said, talks are always better than strikes and we are prepared to talk about anything within the pay envelope as long as we improve patient safety by moving towards a seven-day NHS. Our proposals offer better basic pay and safety for junior doctors, with a shorter working week."
However, the BMA's strike vote is still valid until 13 January and Dr Johann Malawana, the representative of the junior doctors, told his members before Christmas: "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."