The NHS is set for “unparalleled levels of disruption” during this week’s junior doctors strike, with up to 250,000 appointments and operations set to be postponed. Health leaders have raised serious concerns over patient safety ahead of the four-day walkout which they say is likely to be the most disruptive in the history of the health service.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “This next round of strikes will see unparalleled levels of disruption, and we are very concerned about the potential severity of impact on patients and services across the country.
“This time the action immediately follows a four-day bank holiday weekend, which is already difficult as many staff are taking much-needed holiday, and it will be more extensive than ever – with hospitals facing nearly a hundred hours without up to half of the NHS medical workforce.”
Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In terms of the disruption we’re anticipating this time, we reckon it could be up to about a quarter of a million (postponed appointments and operations) so that is a huge amount of impact for patients up and down the country.
“What we’re hearing from our members who are health leaders across the whole system is that they are more concerned about this than they have been about any other strike.
“They think it is going to be so significant that this one is likely to have an impact on patient safety and that is a huge concern for every healthcare leader.”
During the strike, the NHS will focus resources on emergency treatment, critical care, maternity, neonatal care and trauma. But even in these areas, there are concerns of a raised risk to safety.
One senior consultant said: “The timing of this strike is disastrous. It is coming at the worst possible time for hospitals when there is already a spike in mortality following the Easter break because much of the NHS work such as procedures and ward rounds are put on hold.
“Arguably this is the worst time of the year to hold a strike from the patients’ perspective as it comes after a four-day holiday break. We have never worried more about the impact a strike can have on patients than this one.”
The three-day junior doctors strike last month led to more than 175,000 operations and procedures being postponed.
It also saw thousands of consultants providing emergency cover, but NHS bosses don’t expect a repeat of this.
With a record 7.2 million on the waiting list for operations, one hospital consultant said: “I am not confident this time that we can maintain patient safety as we will not be able to provide the cover.”
Another said: “Many consultants who stepped up to do nights last time are not available or are more reluctant this time.”
The BMA has called on Health Secretary Steve Barclay to negotiate to resolve 15 years of “pay erosion”, with junior doctors losing more than 26 per cent of their pay in real terms.
The Department of Health and Social Care has insisted the BMA has to call off the strike for negotiations to take place.
The walkouts are set to run from 6.59am on Tuesday until 6.59am on Saturday.
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