Junior doctor strike could be called off as negotiations continue

Junior doctors strike at Christchurch Hospital in October 2016.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Junior doctors strike at Christchurch Hospital in October 2016.

The junior doctor strike could be called off as district health boards and the union continue negotiations.

A 73-hour strike by junior, or resident, doctors was planned for January 17-20, following the 48-hour strike held in October.

However, that might be avoided, as a newsletter from the union, obtained by Stuff, stated it was hopeful of reaching some agreement on Thursday.

The union and DHBs had been locked in talks since December 2015.

The strikes were prompted by resident doctors who say they are made to work unsafe hours 12 days in a row, and night shifts of seven days in a row.

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A newsletter issued by the New Zealand Resident Doctors' Association on Wednesday said some progress was made, "no doubt in a large part thanks to the impending strike".

"If things look promising tomorrow, your negotiating team might ballot you on lifting the strike action – no point in putting everyone through a strike if we have reasonable assurance we can get settlement, but that depends on what happens tomorrow," the newsletter said.

It said an offer would not be able to be formally made until January 18, when the DHBs' controlling committee met.

A DHB Shared Services spokesman said talks on Thursday were slow, but the time indicated a positive outcome was possible.

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All sides were hopeful of reaching some resolution before the strike.

Talks would likely continue on Friday, he said.

Both sides began discussions on Thursday at 1pm and remained in talks as of 5pm.

The association has been approached for further comment.

Should the strike go ahead, it would result in junior doctors walking off the job at 18 DHBs across the country. Taranaki and West Coast DHB doctors opted against the second strike.

Thousands of appointments have also been deferred as DHBs make contingency plans should the strike go ahead.

Also hanging over the strikes is that the association's contract with DHBs will expire as of March, leaving no collective contract option for new employees.

MidCentral DHB was continuing its planning on the assumption strikes would continue.

MidCentral chief executive Kathryn Cook said measures were in place to ensure safe emergency care continues over the strike period.

Cook assured the public all essential services would be covered.

"Our priority is always the safety of patients, and this will mean postponing some outpatient and elective services to ensure we have sufficient staff to cover essential services."

The emergency department and other critical services would operate as normal.

Cook asked that people keep the emergency department free for emergencies.

"Not all appointments or surgeries are cancelled and we are in the process of contacting all patients booked during the strike period to confirm or defer their booking. Any postponed appointments will be re-booked as soon as possible.

"While we are taking every effort to minimise the impact of this strike, we realise this will be an inconvenience for patients and are asking the public for their support and understanding during this time."

 - Stuff

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