Senior clinicians have warned that up to half of doctors in England could be absent next week during the four planned days of junior doctor strikes.
NHS officials urge that if strikes go ahead from Tuesday, the NHS is likely to face overwhelming pressure immediately after the Easter break.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, told The Times: ‘There is no doubt that next week will be even more challenging for NHS services, with the pressures caused by a bank holiday weekend combined with four days of industrial action — where, for 96 hours, hospitals will be without up to half of the medical workforce.’
The British Medical Association has urged that 96-hour walkout, due to start Tuesday, could be averted if ministers pitch a ‘credible offer’ to restore junior doctor pay to 2008 levels.
The BMA is looking for a 25 per cent pay rise to make up for 15 years of wage rises below inflation, which the government has deemed unrealistic.
Medical chiefs warn junior doctor walkout from Thursday could ‘overwhelm’ A&E services. Junior doctors are here pictured on strike in London on March 14, 2023
Striking doctors rally outside Downing Street, organised by the BMA, on March 13, 2023
With nearly 30,000 staff absent during a strike last month, 175,000 appointments and operations were cancelled.
More than 250,000 cancellations are expected to coincide with the strikes next week. One doctor told The BBC that up to half of all planned treatments could be cancelled.
Junior doctors make up 40 per cent of the medical workforce.
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A hospital chief also told the NHS Confederation ‘basic patient safety will be compromised’, with emergency departments likely to be ‘utterly overwhelmed’.
Sky reported that the strike’s impact is likely to be felt over 11 days due to reduced cover being available over Easter, and then again the weekend following.
Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said that health leaders are ‘bracing’ for the ‘most significant strikes in a decade’, with ‘many aspects of patient care resting on a knife edge’.
Leaders expect the cover available in March will not be next week due to the Easter holiday and pre-booked holiday arrangements.
The BMA website said junior doctors in the NHS in England are striking this year to achieve full pay restoration ‘to reverse the steep decline’ since 2008/9.
They are also looking to agree a mechanism with the government to prevent future declines against the rising cost of living and inflation.
And they seek to reform processes to ensure pay reviews are recommended independently and fairly.
‘The Government continues to refuse to negotiate with the BMA on junior doctor pay restoration leaving us with no choice but to call for a NHS junior doctors’ strike,’ the BMA said.
A junior doctor holds a placard as she stands at a picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital in Westminster in London, Monday, March 13, 2023
A striking junior doctor holds up a sign outside Leeds General Infirmary in Leeds, Britain, March 13 2023
Junior Doctors from the BMA trade union on their picket line at St Thomas’ Hospital on March 15, 2023 in London
It was previously announced the BMA had organised the strike between 7am on 11 April until 7am on 15 April after talks with ministers broke down.
Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA’s junior doctor committee, said they announced the new industrial action with ‘disappointment and great frustration’.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay told doctors to go away and ‘reflect’ on how they wished to proceed, saying there was no point in further talks until they are willing to compromise.