The health secretary promised on Wednesday that no junior doctors working within the legal limits of their hours would see their salary fall under the new contract, in an effort to end the bitter dispute.
With junior doctors protesting and threatening to strike, he wrote to the British Medical Association with a “firm guarantee” that doctors would not see their salaries cut.
David Cameron also said that “no junior doctor is going to lose out in terms of their salary and I think that’s very important for junior doctors to understand”.
But speaking to the BBC, Hunt acknowledged that some of those paid so-called “danger money” for working extra hours could see their pay go down.
“There’s a very small minority of doctors who will be working more than an average of 56 hours and at the moment they get paid what’s called colloquially in the NHS ‘danger money’,” he said.
“We think that’s wrong. Actually, we shouldn’t be allowing that to happen. It’s not safe for patients and, frankly, I’m not sure it’s safe for doctors either. But what we are saying is that for the vast majority of doctors who are working within the legal limit there will be no pay cut. We’ll make sure that happens.”
Numerous junior doctors took to social media following the interview to say they had never heard the phrase “danger money” used in relation to their pay and questioned the health secretary’s understanding of their jobs.
Rob Irons, a registrar in geriatric and acute general internal medicine, told the Guardian: “I have been a qualified doctor for five years and I confirm I have never heard the expression ‘danger money’ used in relation to a doctor’s pay. I get the feeling Mr Hunt just makes things up to generate a soundbite.”
Under the current arrangements, junior doctors get extra payments for working outside normal hours, which are 7am-7pm on weekdays. The new contract would extend those hours to make them 7am-10pm every day except Sunday.
Hunt’s letter to the BMA said no junior doctor would be required to work more than 48 hours a week, with a new weekly maximum of 72 hours. He said current contracts allow a maximum of more than 90 hours a week.
The BMA, which has balloted its members for strike action, said this looked like a “significant shift” but it wanted to see more details.
Hunt has previously accused the BMA of trying to “wind up their own members and create a huge amount of unnecessary anger”, after it said some junior doctors could lose up to 30%.
The government had previously only said that junior doctors would not lose pay on average. The health secretary maintains that the changes are not about saving money but providing a safer environment for patients and doctors.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 29th October 2015 10.22 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010