Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt could impose controversial new contracts for junior doctors by Monday, ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston has learned.
Junior doctors walked out at 8am on Wednesday in their second 24-hour strike over proposed changes to their contracts.
The government wants to make changes which would see Saturdays, before 5pm, classed as 'normal working hours' - meaning doctors would not be able to claim overtime payments for those shifts as they do now.
Mr Hunt said this issue was the final sticking point between government negotiators and the British Medical Association (BMA) - and claimed no proposals had been put forward by doctors to deal with the "weekend effect" - by which mortality rates were said to be higher on Saturdays and Sundays.
Doctors, however, claim these statistics have been misrepresented.
Earlier, the health secretary said he did not want to have to impose the contracts against doctors' collective will - but added the ongoing row does require a "resolution".
And ITV News now understands Mr Hunt may in fact be just two or three days away from forcing the controversial contracts through.