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  1. ITV Report

British Medical Association suspends further junior doctors' strike action

The British Medical Association (BMA) has suspended further junior doctor industrial action in England after concerns about patient safety.

The strikes had been scheduled for October 5, 6, 7, 10 and 11, November 14 to 18 and December 5 to 9.

The organisation said it reached the decision following feedback from doctors, patients and the public, and discussions with NHS England about the ability of the NHS to maintain a safe service if industrial action planned from October to December were to go ahead.

Dr Ellen McCourt, the chair of the BMA junior doctor committee, told ITV News that while junior doctors continued to reject the new contracts, concerns about patient safety had led them to cancel the planned strikes.

"The BMA junior doctors committee continues to reject the imposed contract," she said.

"However, patient safety is our outstanding concern, it is our primary concern, and when we're told the NHS is unable to cope, is unable to keep patients safe, we have decided to suspend industrial action."

In a statement, the BMA said the dispute was far from over and the union was planning "a range of other actions" to combat the Department of Health's plan to impose the contracts.

In light of feedback from doctors, patients and the public, and following a passionate, thoughtful and wide-ranging debate amongst junior doctors, the BMA has taken the decision to suspend planned industrial action.

We still oppose the imposition of the contract and are now planning a range of other actions in order to resist it, but patient safety is doctors’ primary concern and so it is right that we listen and respond to concerns about the ability of the NHS to maintain a safe service.

We hope the government will seize this opportunity to engage with junior doctors and listen to the range of voices from across the NHS raising concerns about doctors’ working lives and the impact of the contract on patient care. If the NHS cannot attract and keep those doctors on whose dedication and professional skills it relies, there will be no recognisable health service in England.

Our fight does not end here. For many people this whole dispute has turned on how the NHS will assure quality care over seven days. It has highlighted the need for an open and honest debate led by the BMA on how this will be achieved. We call on our colleagues across the medical profession, other healthcare professionals, and the government and patient groups to engage with junior doctors on this.

– Dr Ellen McCourt, BMA junior doctor committee chair
The BMA said the dispute with the government over new contracts is not over. Credit: Ben Birchall / PA Wire

The Department of Health welcomed the suspension saying: "The best way to rebuild trust now is for industrial action to be called off permanently in the interests of patients - and we urge the BMA to do so."

Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive, NHS Employers, also welcomed the news.

He said: "The BMA's abandonment of the planned 5 day strikes in October, November and December will be welcomed by employers across the English NHS, as well as by the public. I again ask the BMA to commit to work with us to oversee and review the implementation of the new contract."

The Government and BMA remain at loggerheads over the new contract for junior doctors, which the Department of Health says will help to provide a seven-day NHS.

Six strikes have already taken place across England during the lengthy dispute, causing disruption to hundreds of thousands of patients who have had appointments and operations cancelled.

A first wave of strikes was supposed to start on September 12 but the union called off the first round of industrial action amid safety concerns. In May, it looked as though a breakthrough had been reached in the dispute after both sides agreed to a new deal.

Then in July, the Government announced that it would impose a new contract after junior doctors and medical students voted to reject the deal brokered between health leaders and the BMA.