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  1. ITV Report

WhatsApp leak reveals truth of doctors' pay strategy in dispute

Doctors' leaders and the Government reached a deal on a proposed contract last week after months of disputes. Credit: PA Wire

A vast leak of WhatsApp messages has revealed plans by the leaders of the junior doctors' dispute to "draw out" the contract battle with the Government and suggested pay - not safety - was at the heart of the row.

Months of messages, seen and reported by the Health Service Journal, have revealed the changing strategy of the members of the British Medical Association's Junior Doctors' Committee (JDC), which appear to contradict the public statements being made amid often angry negotiations and strike action walkouts.

In several messages to the committee's executive WhatsApp group, JDC chair Dr Johann Malawana urged the group to draw the dispute "right out", supported by "punctuated (industrial action) for a prolonged period" to tie the Department of Health up "in knots for the next 16-18 months".

Junior doctors took part in 10 days of strike action during six months of protests. Credit: PA Wire

Committee members also admitted at one point they "had nothing to talk about" despite publicly urging the government to re-enter talks with the BMA, because weekend pay was not part of the Government's then-contract offer.

Former JDC chair and executive member Kitty Mohan meanwhile told the group in December that weekend pay was "the only real red line" that "99% of juniors told us they were upset about".

That contradicted the JDC's long-running public claims that the dispute was about "safety, not pay" until the committee re-entered negotiations earlier this month with the issue of Saturday pay.

The leaks show how conscious the group was of moulding its public image, with Dr Malawana even saying the JDC should only take part in a "rubbish" round of mediation talks in January “to play the political game of always looking reasonable".

He also warned against the prospect of strike action that would remove emergency cover as a "vanity event for juniors".

Junior doctors, who performed strike action on 10 days over the past six months including two days of full walkouts, will vote in June on the proposed contract struck by the Government and the JDC earlier this month.

The Health Service Journal though also noted the messages showed no evidence of the Government's consistent claims of a left-wing bias among the JDC, with a range of political views expressed within the group.

In response to the leak, the BMA said:

These conversations go back over six months and reflect the anger and frustration felt by junior doctors across the country due to the government’s refusal to listen to their concerns.

Private discussions should not be mistaken for the agreed strategy of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee, which was communicated publicly.

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.

– British Medical Association statement