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The union for doctors the British Medical Association has announced that talks will begin again about possibly changing the contracts of specialist doctors.
The negotiations come after health secretary Jeremy Hunt said more consultants needed to work weekends to realise a seven-day NHS. Any outcomes from the discussion will be taken to doctors at the start of 2016.
Mr Hunt had said if the BMA was unable to agree by the middle of September about having serious contractual negotiations, he would impose changes to contracts for new consultants.
Previous talks had been halted after various concerns about doctor and patient safety. However, after making promises to safeguard both parties including a pledge to collect data to record any changes, consultants from the BMA agreed to restart its conversation.
BMA consultants committee chair Dr Paul Flynn said: "The BMA is committed to reaching agreement on a contract that delivers high-quality, safe patient care across the week."
He said there was still much to discuss but any new contract would need to be good for patients and the NHS but also fair to doctors.
Currently, consultants have the option to opt out of working at weekends. However, research suggests that just one per cent of specialist doctors take advantage of this when signing their contract, according to the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
It is estimated that nine out of ten consultants already work weekends and evenings
However, concerns have been shared by the chief executive of Nuffield Trust who said the plans would cost millions, which could be invested elsewhere.
With fresh negotiations getting underway, Dr Flynn said it was essential that the government answered some of the fundamental questions that had been posed by doctors about the proposed seven-day services.
He said in areas such as emergency medicine, consultants have been "the driving force behind 24/7 working patterns", but that problems lay outside contractual issues. Dr Flynn explained that a lack of staff, investment and resources were putting strain on existing NHS services.
"This is why it is important that the government works with us constructively in the coming months and provides more detail on how it plans to staff and fund more weekend care," he said.
The online discussions, surveys and deliberative events have informed talks so far but any decision will only apply to consultants in England, with Northern Ireland due to decide whether to continue talks on September 17th.
The Welsh government has not been involved in contract negotiations, while Scottish consultants are unaffected.
Dr Flynn added: "In the coming months talks will focus on agreeing a contract that delivers for patients and the consultants who care for them, that protects safe working patterns and that values the vital contribution consultants make to the NHS."
Written by James Puckle
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