The British Medical Association (BMA) have been left red-faced after a trove of private messages relating to the junior doctors' contract dispute were leaked. The WhatsApp messages between BMA officials revealed that the union leaders wanted to "draw" out the row with the government.

The months' worth of conversations, published in the Health Service Journal, also showed that pay was a top concern for the BMA, rather than just the work condition issues the union raised in public.

Dr Johann Malawana, the BMA's junior doctors' chair, urged his fellow executive committee members to tie Department of Health up "in knots for the next 16-18 months".

However, Malawana also reportedly warned against an all-out strike from the NHS England medics, claiming the removal of emergency cover would be "a vanity event for juniors".

"Private discussions should not be mistaken for the agreed strategy of the BMA junior doctors committee, which was communicated publicly," a spokesperson for the union said.

"It is less what was said during the heightened atmosphere of the biggest dispute between junior doctors and the government for 40 years that matters. What's important is what was done in order to reach a negotiated agreement and ensure that the long-term interests of patients and the NHS are protected."

The Department of Health declined to comment on the leak of the more than 1,000 messages, but the story is likely to be a boost for Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. The parties have since resolved the bitter dispute after crunch talks at mitigation service Acas in May.

Highlights of deal between BMA and the government

• An agreement to replace the banding system for rewarding unsocial hours with payment for all work done to support seven-day service delivery.
• A series of new limits on working hours.
• The replacement of an incremental pay system with a series of nodal pay points based on attainment and responsibility rather than time served.

Junior doctors strike
Junior doctors and supporters hold placards during a strike outside St Thomas' Hospital in London Stefan Wermuth/ Reuters