Is there anyone out there who is unaware of the ongoing dispute between the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and the NHS hospital-based junior doctors? The doctors have been on strike and now we are advised that new contracts will be imposed. If the ongoing media coverage is accurate it looks as if in a sense an unstoppable force is continuously doing battle with an immovable object. It also appears that those involved with and currently facilitating the existing dispute resolution processes have effectively become woven into the fabric of the conflict. The whole situation is politically and emotionally charged and an objective third party may well wonder how it will all end!

One cannot help questioning whether the “national battle lines, one fits all” scenario portrayed by the media is altogether accurate. However assuming for the moment that it is, what we essentially have is an impasse, a situation that civil and workplace mediators are trained and very well equipped to deal with. Even at this relatively late stage has anyone given any thought to using a truly independent mediator to help the parties to explore the issues and to consider whether a settlement is possible? This could result in promptly convened, very cost effective discussion. Genuinely independent mediation would help the disputing parties and their political and legal advisors to see past the politically charged arguments that have been expressed so far by stepping back a little and taking a fresh look at matters. Confrontation would be kept to a minimum and at the very least this discussion would help the parties to consider what room they have for manoeuvre.

Will a nationally negotiated agreement or deal necessarily address any or all individual, local or regional grievances that there may be? The television news footage which has been broadcast from locations around the UK suggests that in different areas there may be disputes e.g. between individual NHS trusts/hospitals and medical staff that will not necessarily be reflected in the national picture. Is there a danger that however unintentionally, local or regional grievances will be put to one side and that this will in some way detract from the time, effort and money that will inevitably be put into the national negotiations? Some junior doctors who feel that their individual grievances have been subsumed and effectively ignored by national negotiators may continue to be dissatisfied.

With these more localised considerations in mind, is there any scope for dialogue through mediation to address disputes that are local/regional rather than national?

Clearly the current discord is deeply regrettable and it goes without saying that every effort must be made to resolve matters. However, in one sense those who are responsible for running the NHS and ensuring that the very highest professional standards are met, do have an opportunity to look at matters afresh and to engage in meaningful mediation. Those involved have little to lose by going down this path and everything to gain.