Health Secretary agrees to Acas talks

Danny Mortimer

26 / 11 / 2015 8.57am

Dear Colleague

I am writing to let you know that the health secretary has this afternoon confirmed he is prepared for talks to take place at Acas between ourselves, DH officials and the BMA, about the junior doctors’ contract negotiations.

A full transcript of the health secretary’s letter to Dr Mark Porter is at the end of this note. 

I know that you will welcome a return to discussions with the BMA and I remain hopeful that, through our joint endeavours, we can end this dispute and modernise the doctors’ contracts whilst also addressing the concerns of junior doctors.

We are at a very early stage and I will of course keep you informed of developments. It is not clear yet whether these talks will impact on the proposed industrial action and my advice at the moment would be to continue to contingency plan for these events.

Autumn Statement and Spending Review

Also today, the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented his Autumn Budget and the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). I thought that you would find it useful to have a quick summary of the key NHS and workforce announcements, to share with your Board and colleagues.

The main announcement for the NHS was confirmation of the commitment to increase NHS funding from £101bn currently to £120bn by 2020/21, with the first £6bn delivered upfront next year.

Other points of interest to employers in the NHS include:

  • bursaries for student nurses to be removed and replaced with student loans
  • creation of up to 10,000 new training places
  • an apprenticeship levy to raise £3bn a year, set at 0.5 per cent of the payroll bill but with a £15,000 allowance for employers to offset the levy
  • tax-free childcare costs for parents working more than 16 hours and earning less than £100,000
  • more than £5bn for health research including genomics and dementia. 
  • £600m of additional funding for mental health services, including access to talking therapies and crisis care
  • A new council tax levy of up to 2 per cent for local authorities to spend specifically on adult social care, with the aim of bringing £2bn more into the social care system
  • Better Care fund increased to £1.5bn by 2019/20
  • state pension will increase next year to £119.30 per week
  • a new single tier pension payment of £155.65 for new pensioners from next year.
Although not highlighted in his speech, the Chancellor has also announced a review of the current systems of managing and compensating for sickness absence in public sector workforces, with a view to looking at what reform might be needed.

We will update you with more information as soon as possible. In the meantime, the full CSR statement is available on the website.  As ever, if you have any comments on these or other issues, please contact me

I thank you for your continued support.

Daniel Mortimer
Chief Executive
NHS Employers

Letter from Jeremy Hunt to Dr Mark Porter:

Dear Mark, 

Thank you for your letter last week. 

Achieving a negotiated solution on the junior doctors’ contract has been my objective from the outset.  We have always been willing to talk without preconditions, and we have extended numerous invitations to do so both publicly and privately.  I am disappointed by the BMA’s continued refusal to take up that offer, particularly given we have already been through one independent process with the DDRB, and you have not yet even been willing to discuss their recommendations with us. 

Patient safety has been my absolute priority throughout my tenure as Health Secretary.   The extreme strike action planned in December poses a serious threat to that safety.  Whilst I believe the right thing to do is to return to the negotiating table directly, it is clear that any talks are better than strikes, so in the first instance I am very happy for my officials and NHS Employers to commence those talks using ACAS conciliation services. 

We have already been through one independent process since our negotiations began nearly three years ago.  We are now embarking upon a second.  The Government has just committed an extra £3.8bn to the NHS next year to help fund the NHS’ own plan for the future and deliver better services every day of the week.  Extra taxpayers’ money must come with reform, so I hope you will appreciate that it is vital that we now press ahead with changes to the consultants and junior contracts to help tackle unacceptable variations in weekend mortality rates by improving medical cover at weekends, which is a key part of the solution.  My strong preference is to get round the table and agree with the BMA how we do so in a way that you consider fair, and we are willing to listen and negotiate on any concerns.    

Given we will shortly be commencing with ACAS our first negotiations in over a year, I would also urge you to think again about whether extreme strike action in the NHS’ busiest period - which will at best disrupt patient care and at worst cause serious harm to patients - is appropriate or necessary.  I believe it’s time to work together to improve weekend care – as promised to the British people in our election manifesto - and avoid harming vulnerable patients by postponing your planned action and resolving our differences through talks not strikes.    


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