The NHS is to face further disruption this week as junior doctors across England will strike for 72 hours. There are concerns about the impacts another round of industrial action will have on routine or pre-planned care, as well as the effects of the current heatwave on urgent and emergency care.
Ambulance staff are also taking strike action in some areas.
Due to the ongoing dispute over pay, junior doctors in England are set to walk out for 72 hours from 7am on Wednesday 14 June. The strike was announced after talks between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Government broke down in May.
NHS strikes have been occurring for months and staff have been preparing extensively for this next phase of action, but with the thousands of appointments that have already been delayed and rescheduled, this will be detrimental to patient care. A similar walkout by junior doctors in April saw 196,000 hospital appointments and pre-planned operations rescheduled.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS in England has expressed concern about the impact of strikes on waiting lists as some procedures can take time to rearrange with multiple teams involved.
Powis said “as we enter the seventh month of industrial action across the NHS, and as this action becomes more frequent, we are now seeing an extraordinary cumulative impact on our services and crucially on our staff, who continue to go above and beyond to maintain safe patient services during this challenging period”.
As a result of the strikes, senior doctors and nurses will be drafted in to cover urgent and emergency care work usually undertaken by junior doctors, which will also lead to other work being postponed.
Meanwhile, NHS England also called for people to do their best to protect themselves during warm weather, warning that the service in many parts of the country has faced high demand for urgent care services. It urged people, particularly the elderly, to follow warm weather guidance such as trying to keep their homes cool by keeping their windows and curtains closed in the day and opening them at night when the temperature has gone down and checking the temperature of their rooms.
Responses to the strikes
Senior health leaders implored the government and junior doctors to reopen negotiations ahead of the strike as they argue that continuous industrial action is taking a toll on the NHS. Most concerning is the current waiting list which already sits at 7.4 million and is therefore likely to grow. Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS trusts said “It’s disappointing that the NHS is having to brace itself for a further round of industrial action once again as the Government and junior doctors have not found common ground on the pay dispute.”
“We’ve seen signs that more consultants are becoming reluctant to continue to provide cover unless they are paid the BMA rate card for overtime, which will have an impact on local budgets. We again strongly encourage both the Government and junior doctors to come to the table and put an end to this as quickly as possible” He added.
Issues such as patient safety and elective care provisions are also worrisome – Taylor said “The impact of this can be significant, with patients potentially developing complications or their condition worsening as a result.”.
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive at NHS Providers, added: “We understand the frustration of junior doctors and other staff groups who’ve seen their pay fall behind inflation and made the difficult decision to strike, but this can’t continue. We risk sleepwalking into a summer of strikes if talks don’t resume as a matter of urgency. The Government and unions must re-open talks without delay.”
Last week, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said there needs to be “movement on both sides” amid the dispute. He insisted the Government’s door remains open, but accused the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee of refusing to budge from its 35 per cent pay demand, despite bringing an intermediary to negotiations.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Another three days of strikes by junior doctors will risk patient safety and lead to further disruption and postponed treatments. We made a fair and reasonable opening offer to the BMA and were in active discussions about both pay and non-pay issues. We are working with NHS England to put in place contingency plans to protect patient safety. The NHS will prioritise resources to protect emergency treatment, critical care, neonatal care and trauma.”
Strike action has hit the NHS hard and will continue to – the Government’s refusal to provide a pay offer which coincides with inflation is primarily to blame.
NHS staff who take industrial action feel they have no other choice as there is no alternative method of pushing the Government into negotiations. The longer this goes on, the weaker the Government appears. It is time our politicians recognise that those who work in a sector with such high societal importance should not be overworked and underpaid.