The results of a ballot of junior doctors in England are to be unveiled later – with a vote in favour of strikes widely expected.
Both sides were privately acknowledging a “Yes” vote was a near certainty, before the ballot closed on Wednesday.
It comes after thousands of doctors have taken part in a series of protests in the contract dispute.
Three dates have already been set for next month, with ministers warning a walkout will harm patients.
The BBC understands the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which normally stays out of politics, will call for both sides to agree to independent arbitration at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), as the dispute threatens to escalate.
Two-thirds of the 55,000 junior doctors in England have been balloted by the British Medication Association.
What will happen in a strike?
Services will be disrupted, make no mistake about that. But the aim of doctors taking part will not be to maximise that – as is the aim in many other industrial disputes.
On the first day of action that has been earmarked, junior doctors will still staff emergency care. On the other two dates, they will walk out in the knowledge there will be other medics – consultants, staff doctors and locums – that can plug the gaps.
Whether that will be enough will be argued over ahead, during and after any walkout.
What is certain, though, is non-emergency services will suffer. Hip operations, knee replacement and routine clinics will have to be cancelled.
In fact, as happened the last time doctors took action in 2012, over pensions, expect hospitals to start rearranging services in advance.
Talks broke down last year, and ministers have since said they will impose the new contract from next year.
The dates for industrial action are:
- 08:00 GMT 1 December to 08:00 GMT 2 December (junior doctors to staff emergency care)
- 08:00 GMT to 17:00 8 December (full strike)
- 08:00 GMT to 17:00 16 December (full strike)
As the ballot papers went out a fortnight ago, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt made a last ditch attempt to persuade doctors to accept the offer.
He wrote to all the doctors in the country with a fresh offer.
It included a promise of an 11% rise in basic pay, but the BMA said this was misleading as it was offset by curbs to other elements of the pay package, including unsociable hours payments.
Ministers have promised to protect pay for the first three years of the deal.
But the BMA has said there are insufficient safeguards to stop hospitals overworking doctors and they could lose out in the long term.
Junior doctors row
junior doctors in England
balloted over industrial action
3.1bn spent on junior doctor pay currently
11% rise in basic pay offered
25% cut in weekly hours that attract a premium unsociable hours payment
Neither the BMA or ministers were commenting ahead of the announcement of the ballot result.
Labour shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has written to the prime minister to ask him to intervene, saying the profession had “lost confidence” in Mr Hunt. Like the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, she wants to see independent arbitration.
The AMRC letter – seen by the BBC – says: “With the NHS facing its most difficult winter in recent memory, and the prospect of industrial action now looming, it is imperative that urgent steps are taken to resolve this dispute.”
Roger Goss, of the campaign group Patient Concern, criticised the way both sides had handled the dispute but said doctors should not go on strike.
“Any honourable doctor with a genuine vocation who wants to preserve the high esteem which the medical profession currently enjoys will refuse to cause suffering inherent in a full-scale walkout,” he said.
Scotland and Wales have said they do not want to introduce the contract changes, while Northern Ireland has yet to make a decision.
Read more: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-34859860