A strike by junior doctors affecting Sheffield’s hospitals is still expected to go ahead tomorrow - despite a ‘potential agreement’ being reached with the Government.
Doctors are poised to walk out from 8am as part of a dispute over changes to pay and working conditions and will provide emergency care only for 24 hours.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the House of Commons today there had been a “time-limited” agreement made this afternoon for further talks, where the BMA would suspend strike action if the Government agrees not to impose a new contract on doctors.
He said this was now sitting with members of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee to see whether they could support it.
But he said strikes across England planned for tomorrow at 8am are still due to go ahead.
There are expected to be picket lines outside both the Northern General and Royal Hallamshire Hospitals tomorrow as the strike takes place.
Mr Hunt said: “I’m pleased to report to the House after working through the weekend, discussions led to a potential agreement early this afternoon between the BMA leadership and the Government.
“This agreement would allow a time-limited period during which negotiations can take place and during which the BMA agrees to suspend strike action and the Government agrees not to proceed unilaterally with implementing a new contract.
“This agreement is now sitting with the BMA junior doctors executive committee who will decide later today if they’re able to support it.”
Four days of talks between the BMA, Government officials and NHS Employers - hosted by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) - have resulted in the new tentative settlement.
Ahead of the strike, advice has been issued by NHS bosses in Sheffield.
A spokesman said: “Patients in need of urgent and emergency care will continue to receive the treatment they need, when they need it. However, due to increased pressures on the NHS over this period, those in less urgent need of care may experience longer waiting times than normal and some elective operations may need to be postponed or rearranged.
“In all cases priority will be given to those patients with the most pressing health needs.”
Dr Zak McMurray, GP and Medical Director at NHS Sheffield CCG, said: “As ever, the safety and care of patients is our top priority in Sheffield and robust plans are in place. We have been working with providers across the city to ensure we can continue to protect the safety and welfare of our patients and provide the urgent services they may need.
“We would encourage people who already have appointments or elective operations scheduled to check arrangements with the service provider and rearrange them if necessary. We would also urge people to take extra special care of their own health over this period – and to look out for more vulnerable members of their families and communities.”
Doctors are poised to take action on three days over pay and working conditions, providing emergency care only for 24 hours from 8am on Tuesday followed by full walkouts from 8am to 5pm on December 8 and 16.
The action would cause mass disruption to the NHS, with hospitals forced to cancel outpatient clinics and non-urgent operations.
NHS England estimates that between 3,000 and 3,400 operations and procedures have already been scrapped for Tuesday - the first of three days of industrial action.
Some 98% of more than 37,000 doctors balloted by the BMA voted in favour of strikes.
A new contract is set to be imposed from next summer on doctors working up to consultant level.
Mr Hunt previously tried to avert strikes with a fresh deal, including an 11% rise in basic pay.
This is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend that junior doctors can claim extra pay for “unsocial” hours.
Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay.
Under the new plans, a higher rate would run from 10pm to 7am Monday to Friday, and from 7pm on Saturday evenings - a concession on the previous 10pm.
Mr Hunt argues that, under the new deal, just 1% of doctors would lose pay and those would be limited to doctors working too many hours already.
The BMA has said the increase in basic pay is misleading due to the changes to pay for unsocial hours. It also has other concerns over flexible pay plans for some specialities.
Mr Hunt told MPs that NHS England had estimated that - across all three days of planned action - up to 20,000 patients may have operations cancelled, including around 1,500 cataracts operations, 900 skin lesion removals, 630 hip and knee operations, 400 spine operations, 250 gall bladder removals and nearly 300 tonsil and grommets operations.
He said that contingency plans for December 8 and 16 - when junior doctors will not work at all, including in emergency care - was focused on staffing at major trauma centres and trusts “where we have concerns about patient safety”.
He added: “All trusts will have to cancel considerable quantities of elective care in order to free up consultant capacity and beds.
“So far the BMA has not been willing to provide assurances they will ask their members to provide urgent and emergency cover in areas where patients may be at risk and we will continue to press for such assurance.”