A LAST-DITCH attempt to avert the junior doctors' strike was dismissed by health secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday as hospitals across Sussex braced themselves for major disruption.

A cross-party plan by MPs that a new NHS contract for junior doctors be piloted first in a bid to end the long-running row over its imposition was rejected by the health secretary.

But Mr Hunt rejected the bid as "opportunism", adding: "We're staging implementation to ensure it works as intended. Any further delay just means we will take longer to eliminate weekend effect."

Junior doctors are set to completely withdraw all labour in the increasingly bitter dispute with the government.

Scores of operations and outpatient appoints around the county have been cancelled as a result to ensure full cover is available for emergencies.

Hundreds of medics are expected to join picket lines at the county’s hospitals, including in Brighton, Worthing and Eastbourne.

It will be the fourth, and most significant, stoppage in the row between junior doctors and the Government over plans by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to impose a new seven day contract later this year.

In previous strikes doctors continued to provide emergency cover but this time there will be no cover at all.

The county’s hospitals have been making arrangements to ensure there are enough staff in post for emergencies, which has meant taking them from other departments.

This has had the knock on effect of having to re-schedule some pre-planned procedures and appointments.

The major sticking point has been over weekend pay and whether Saturdays should attract extra unsocial hours payments.

Currently, 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and the whole of Saturday and Sunday attract a premium rate of pay for junior doctors.

The Government has said the Saturday day shift must be paid at a normal rate.

Todd Leckie, a junior doctor at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton and a British Medical Association (BMA) rep, previously told The Argus medics were taking action with “great reluctance” and they deeply regretted any inconvenience caused to patients.

However he said they had little choice but to take action.

He said: “Instead of listening and responding to our concerns, Jeremy Hunt has taken the reckless and dangerous decision to impose a contract that the vast majority of junior doctors believe is unsafe and not fit for purpose.”

A spokeswoman for Sussex Defend the NHS, which will be marching with the Brighton Trades Council and other unions in the city tomorrow, said: “It is truly outrageous this government continues to refuse to accept its responsibility for our health service and still won’t sit down and talk with the doctors.

“The doctors are the most committed and dedicated people and none wishes any harm to come to any patient.

“Of course individuals are inconvenienced and no-one wishes that but sometimes you just have to say, enough is enough, because of the longer term fight.

“If they lose this battle, the government will be going for the nurses next and before we know it, we'll no longer have a national health service and we'll all be having to pay for private health insurance.”

The BMA has called on the Government to resume negotiations and arbitration service Acas has said it is willing to step in and help.

The Department of Health has branded the strike “irresponsible and disproportionate”.