UK Doctors Cancel Strikes But Still Resist Contract

A junior doctor holds a placard during a strike outside St Thomas' Hospital in London, Britain, April 6. Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

A union representing British doctors on Saturday called off a series of strikes scheduled for the next three months, citing concerns about patient safety.

The British Medical Association (BMA) had planned a full withdrawal of labor by junior doctors on Oct. 5-7 and 10-11, Nov. 14-18 and Dec. 5-9, which would have been the longest stoppages in the nearly 70-year history of the National Health Service.

Junior doctors—a term covering recent medical school graduates right through to doctors who have been working for well over a decade—have staged a series of walkouts over a new work contract the government plans to impose next month.

The BMA said its decision to suspend the action follows 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 were to go ahead.

"Following a passionate, thoughtful and wide-ranging debate amongst junior doctors, the BMA has taken the decision to suspend planned industrial action," said Ellen McCourt, the newly elected chair of the BMA junior doctor committee. "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," she said.

The BMA staged several strikes earlier this year, which escalated in April when junior doctors walked out of all services, including accident and emergency, for a day.

A deal was reached in May between the BMA and the government, but junior doctors voted in July to reject the new contract.

The government says the new arrangements are part of its plan to bring in a safer and more comprehensive seven-day health service. The doctors say it will result in them working longer hours at anti-social times to the detriment of patient care.