Doctors strike fallout could take weeks to resolve, NHS bosses say
The disruption caused by the junior doctors’ strike in England could take weeks to resolve, health bosses say. Tens of thousands of appointments and treatments, including cancer care, had to be cancelled during the three-day walkout, which ends at 07:00.
Patients with appointments coming up may see them canceled to make room for high-priority cases hit by the strike. Hospitals are also reporting problems discharging patients from wards, as consultants were sent to cover A&E.
Saffron Cordery, of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said the scale and length of the walkout, coupled with the fact it started on a Monday – traditionally the busiest day of the week – had made it more difficult than previous strikes by nurses and ambulance staff.
“It will take weeks to recover – just rebooking patients who have treatments and appointments cancelled is a big job,” she said. Patients have to be individually prioritised – it may mean some patients with bookings in the coming weeks being pushed further back.” During the nurses’ strikes, some trusts reported up to a fifth of appointments being postponed – but those strikes affected only a third of NHS trusts at any one time.
The walkout by British Medical Association members involved all NHS trusts. A year ago, Liz Slaughter, had a total knee replacement, which failed. After a second operation, the knee dislocated. And despite further surgery, the 60-year-old, from Worthing, Sussex, remains in significant pain. Her appointment with a hospital consultant, on Tuesday, was canceled last week – and has yet to be rearranged.
“I’m in constant pain and can only walk for about five minutes at most,” Ms Slaughter says. It was really disappointing to be told the appointment was canceled – I had been holding out for it as it’s been a really difficult period for me.
“I understand the reason they’re striking. Whether they’re entitled to the 35% pay rise and whether that’s realistic I don’t know. I’m sorry for them they feel driven to do this. The strike had also hit NHS trust finances, Ms Cordery said, with consultants demanding premium payments of up to £262 per hour to cover junior doctors.
“We really cannot afford another strike, for the sake of patients and also NHS trust finances,” she said. “Consultants have been paid steep rates to provide cover. The BMA is asking for 35% pay rise to make up for 15 years of below-inflation wage rises.
On Saturday, its leaders turned down Health Secretary Steve Barclay’s last-minute offer of pay talks, as he was unwilling to discuss a rise of this scale. The government has suggested 3.5% next year. The BMA’s demands were “unaffordable”, Mr Barclay said, but he was keen to come to a “fair settlement”.
Matthew Taylor, of the NHS Confederation, which represents health managers, urged the BMA and government to find a resolution, saying he hoped another walkout and disruption on this scale would “never happen again”. The government and BMA need to find a way to move beyond their impasse,” he added.