Junior doctors strike ‘worst yet’ leading to 175,000 cancellations

Junior doctors’ staged a 72-hour walkout that began on Monday  (PA)
Junior doctors’ staged a 72-hour walkout that began on Monday (PA)

More than 175,000 patient appointments and procedures were cancelled across England as a result of the junior doctorsstrike this week.

The 72-hour walkout that began on Monday subsequently became the most disrupive NHS strike this year.

NHS England medical director Sir Stephen Powis said the strike was on an “unprecedented scale”.

He told the BBC it had “a greater impact than all the other industrial action we have seen so far this winter combined”.

Mr Powis said more than 175,000 appointment and procedures were rescheduled to protect emergency, critical and urgent care for patients, “which will inevitably impact on efforts to tackle the Covid backlog”.

Some cancellations included hip and knee operations, as well as routine checks for diabetic and cancer patients, the BBC reports.

Tens of thousands of junior doctors finished the strike at 8am on Thursday as part of a bitter pay dispute with the Government.

St George’s, Epsom and St Helier’s hospitals in south west London saw more than 1,000 people attend their emergency departments over the course of Monday - despite pleas to only attend A&E in a medical emergency during the strike. It is the equivalent of one person every 90 seconds.

The NHS has been trying to tackle a backlog exacerbated by the pandemic, but there are still 7.2 million people on waiting lists for treatment in England.

Nurses, ambulance workers and physios have all taken industrial action this winter.

Doctors’ leaders and ministers are being urged to start formal pay talks after a breakthrough deal was made with other NHS staff in England.

It’s understood the British Medical Association (BMA) will meet ministers next week to begin negotiations around pay.

The union is demanding “pay restoration” for junior doctors, who can have many years’ experience and make up about 45 per cent of the medical workforce.

It says their pay has fallen in real terms by 26 per cent since 2008/09 and reversing this would require a 35.3 per cent pay rise.

Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairman of the BMA, said on Thursday: “We were ready to talk months ago. Our formal dispute started over 150 days ago and, again, that is just what I mean in that it is disappointing it has taken Steve Barclay so long to get to the negotiating table.

“I only hope that he does come with good faith and a mandate to negotiate.”

Thursday’s offer for other NHS staff – backed by the Royal College of Nursing, the GMB and Unison – includes a one-off lump sum for 2022/23 which rises in value up the NHS pay bands as well as a permanent 5 per cent rise on all pay points for 2023/24.

It followed days of talks between health unions and the Government, raising hopes the long-running dispute could be brought to an end.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said on Thursday the Government hopes to strike a similar pay deal with junior doctors.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We deeply regret that over 175,000 appointments and procedures were cancelled this week, despite our offer to start formal talks on the condition strikes were paused.

“However, we are pleased the BMA has now accepted our offer to enter talks based on the same terms as with the Agenda for Change unions – which concluded positively this week.

“We want to find a fair settlement which recognises the crucial role of junior doctors and the wider economic pressures facing the UK, as we have done with other unions.”