LONDON (Reuters)—Doctors in Britain’s state-funded health service announced on the eve of a planned mass walkout they would suspend it until January after “conciliatory talks” with the government over new pay and conditions.
The strike had been due to start on Tuesday, involving doctors in training, or junior doctors, who represent just over half of all doctors in the National Health Service. It would have hit non-emergency care and led to the cancellations of many operations.
“Following conciliatory talks … we have agreed to suspend industrial action in England, which was due to begin at 8 a.m. tomorrow,” the BMA, the union which held the ballot on strike action, said in a statement on its website.
“The government has also agreed not to proceed unilaterally with the introduction of a new contract.”
Ninety-eight percent of more than 37,000 junior doctors had voted to take part in industrial action, including strikes, in protest against the new employment contract proposed by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The BMA and doctors have criticized the new contract, which changes the way they are paid for anti-social hours, saying it does not provide proper safeguards against doctors working dangerously long hours.
The government says the new contract is part of measures to ensure patients get the “same quality of care across the week.”
Doctors’ strikes are rare in Britain. The last time they took industrial action was in 2012 over NHS pensions, but care was only slightly disrupted.
The last major walkout was in 1975 over non-payment for work done outside the standard 40-hour working week. A new contract was agreed the next year.