Negotiations over junior doctors' working hours

In September 1999, the UK Department of Health announced that negotiations with the British Medical Association (BMA) had resulted in a draft agreement to reduce junior doctors' working hours and modernise pay and working conditions. However the junior doctors' committee of the BMA decided not to ratify the deal and to press for further improvements.

On 23 September 1999, the Department of Health announced that negotiations with the British Medical Association (BMA) about junior doctors' working hours and overtime pay had resulted in a draft agreement on new contractual arrangements. The negotiations followed a decision by the BMA junior doctors' conference in June to move to a ballot on industrial action over long hours and low overtime pay (UK9906113N). According to the Department of Health, the proposed agreement would "modernise junior doctors' pay, reduce hours and improve working conditions", and would "provide the opportunity, over a three-year period, to see that junior doctors on average work no more than 56 hours a week".

However, the announcement of a "done deal" appears to have been premature. When the proposed agreement was put to the BMA junior doctors' committee the following day, the committee decided neither to accept or reject the proposed offer but instead to "note" the position reached and to instruct the BMA negotiators to continue to push for a better deal on out-of-hours pay and the millennium holiday period. In the meantime, the BMA will not lift the threat of industrial action. The committee decided to hold a special junior doctors' conference to discuss a "more finalised" version of the deal before conducting a referendum of all junior doctor members on the acceptability of any settlement negotiated on their behalf.

The outline agreement envisages a new contractual structure which involves replacing the current system of "additional duty hours" (overtime for which most junior doctors receive 50% of the standard hourly rate of pay) with a pay banding system for different posts reflecting such criteria as work intensity and the extent of anti-social hours. The proposals would also ensure the protection of pay if junior doctors' hours go down because of the extension of the EU working time Directive.

Under the 1991 "New Deal" agreement between the BMA and the Department of Health, junior doctors in the UK should already work no more than 56 hours a week (or 72 hours on call) yet official figures show that over a quarter of junior doctors work beyond these limits (UK9906113N).

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