A deal reached between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the government over new contracts for junior doctors could still be rejected by BMA members when they vote on it this summer.
The deal, which has been debated over 10 days in sessions chaired by Acas, will now be presented to junior doctors in a series of roadshows followed by a referendum.
A BMA spokesperson said the roadshows would run from 17 June, and a referendum would be put to members before1 July, with the results announced on 6 July.
The spokesperson was unable to say what percentage of members would need to be in agreement for the deal to go ahead, and added that the BMA had no idea at this stage whether its members would accept the offer.
Under the new contract, which will apply to the 55,000 junior doctors working in the NHS, weekend working will be ‘plain time’ – part of a junior doctor’s normal working week. However, junior doctors who work more than six weekends in a year will qualify for an extra pay allowance, up to a maximum of 10 per cent, which will increase the more weekends they work.
In addition, junior doctors’ basic pay will rise by between 10 and 11 per cent on average. Night shifts will attract a 37 per cent increased pay rate. This is less than existing night shift rates of 50 per cent, but will now include hours worked between 8pm and 10am.
If accepted, some elements of the new contract could take effect in August, with all junior doctors moving to the new terms between October 2016 and August 2017. No further industrial action will be taken while the referendum is underway.
Justice for Health, an independent campaign group pursuing its own legal action against the new contract, said it was reviewing its stance – but suggested legal questions remained. Saimo Chahal, partner at law firm Bindmans, who is representing the group, said: “The memorandum of agreement between Acas and the BMA refers to the secretary of state as a party to this agreement – which is legally questionable as he cannot be a party to the employment contract terms. That is a matter between the employers and the employers’ representatives. This highlights the ongoing confusion about the role of the secretary of state in this dispute… and what he can and cannot legally do. We are now reviewing how best to proceed with the legal action in light of recent developments.”
In response to concerns over-long working hours, a guardian will be appointed to work within each NHS trust, whose role will include monitoring rota gaps. Each trust must also set up a junior doctors’ forum to advise the guardian, and the BMA will be represented at any hearing of an appeal against a guardian’s decision.
Following criticisms that the proposed new contract discriminated against women who take maternity leave and part-time workers, £10 million will be spent on “targeted accelerated learning” to help doctors get up to speed on their return to work. They will also be assigned a mentor.
This relates to concerns over measures that will see automatic annual pay increases scrapped in favour of pay rises according to time worked and experience accrued.
BMA Junior Doctors Committee chair Johann Malawana said: “Junior doctors have always wanted to agree a safe and fair contract, one that recognises and values the contribution junior doctors make to the NHS, addresses the recruitment and retention crisis in parts of the NHS, and provides the basis for delivering a world-class health service.”
He added that he believed the current offer was a “good deal for junior doctors”, which represented the “best and final way of resolving the dispute”.
“This is what I will be saying to junior doctors in the weeks leading up to the referendum on the new contract,” he said.
Stephen Dalton, acting chief executive at the NHS Confederation, said: “Junior doctors are highly valued members of the NHS workforce and vital to the delivery of care, and we very much hope that they will support the new package that is now in place.”
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