HOSPITALS in England are braced for another day of disruption as junior doctors take part in a second 24-hour strike over pay and conditions.
NHS bosses said more than 2,800 non-emergency operations had been cancelled in advance of the walkout, which gets under way at 08:00 GMT.
Routine check-ups, appointments and tests are also likely to be disrupted.
The stoppage comes amid mounting speculation that ministers may soon seek to impose a contract.
The BBC understands talks have started taking place within government after NHS bosses told ministers that if they wanted to see a new contract introduced, they would have to make their move this month to ensure it was in place by the summer.
It raises the possibility of a series of rolling strikes as the dispute threatens to escalate even further.
Talks hosted by conciliation service Acas broke down at the end of January and despite some informal discussions behind the scenes, there is thought to be little prospect of them restarting.
The key sticking point appears to be payments for working on Saturdays.
The British Medical Association (BMA) wants the whole day to be classed as outside of normal working hours and therefore attracting an unsociable hours premium, whereas ministers want the hours between 07:00 and 17:00 to be paid at the basic rate.