A JUNIOR doctors’ strike affecting thousands of patients across Lancashire has been called off at the last minute.
A national walk-out, meaning only emergency care would be provided for 24 hours from 8am today, followed by full strikes on December 8 and 16, looked likely after the British Medical Association (BMA) failed to agree with the Government over new contracts.
Outpatient clinics and non-urgent surgeries were cancelled, and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Royal Preston and Chorley hospitals, was braced for a worst-case scenario of 428 patients affected today.
But all three strikes were suspended by the BMA yesterday evening in order to return to negotiations over changes to pay and conditions. In return, the Government has agreed to suspend its threat to impose a new contract on doctors.
Dr David Wrigley, BMA representative for Lancashire, said the news was a “starting point”.
He said: “It’s good news that the strike has been called off, but it’s very early days. Local doctors are hopeful that something can be done, but we have a long way to go.
“The legal timeframe for industrial action has been extended to January, so this is temporary.”
A spokesman for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, which has been hosting the talks, said: “Following five days of productive talks under the auspices of Acas, the BMA, NHS Employers and the Department of Health have reached an agreement. Acas is pleased that the talks have been held in a constructive manner and cooperative spirit between the parties, that will allow an improvement in industrial relations.”
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals had made efforts to contact all patients potentially affected by the proposed industrial action, but it is not known what disruption will be caused by the late changes.
Changes to the Junior Doctors’ Contract, which were set to be brought in next year, included scrapping safeguards stopping doctors from working when they are too tired, and reclassifying which hours are paid overtime.