NHS warns strikes are having impact on cancer and heart patients

4 October 2023, 14:14

Doctors on strike
Industrial strike. Picture: PA

It comes as doctors scolded hospitals for booking in operations in the days leading ip to the strikes.

Joint doctors’ strikes are hampering the NHS’s efforts to help people in need of urgent care, including cancer and heart patients and women in need of caesarean sections, health bosses have said.

The health service said the joint walkout of both junior doctors and consultants in England has caused “significant disruption and risk” to patients.

As well as having an impact on the service’s ability to care for people in need of “urgent, time-sensitive” care, the strikes have also led to problems in emergency care, NHS England warned.

But in response, doctors’ leaders said the NHS should not have booked in operations in the days leading up to strikes so the service was better prepared to cope during the mass walkout of doctors.

Despite the record high waiting lists, the British Medical Association (BMA) said that hospitals “have not been appropriately rescheduling non-urgent elective activity in the days leading up to and during strike action”.

The union claims this affected the service’s ability to prioritise urgent cases.

In a letter to the BMA, NHS England leaders said: “We are increasingly concerned that the cumulative impact of this action is causing significant disruption and risk to patients.

“We are extremely concerned that Christmas Day cover is insufficient to ensure appropriate levels of patient safety are being maintained across local health systems.”

They warned that the Christmas Day level of staffing is leading to problems in emergency care and affecting the NHS’s ability to “manage” urgent cases.

“We are becoming increasingly concerned that combined periods of industrial action are impacting on our ability to manage individuals who require time-sensitive urgent treatment, for example cardiac, cancer or cardiovascular patients, or women needing urgent caesarean sections,” the letter states.

“Although we recognise that consultants have been giving six weeks’ notice of industrial action, we are anxious this in itself is not sufficient to appropriately maintain safe care for these patients,” they added.

NHS officials called for more talks with the BMA to discuss how to strengthen patient safety during walkouts.

A letter of response, penned by Professor Philip Banfield, chairman of council at the BMA, said that the union was “committed to ensuring that patients are safe during strikes”.

Dr Banfield wrote: “Unfortunately, reports from around the country show that trusts have not been appropriately rescheduling non-urgent elective activity in the days leading up to and during
strike action – directly impacting on the ability of the wider service to prioritise more urgent cases.”

Medics are in the midst of the longest joint walkout in NHS history.

During the three-day walk out, which ends at 7am on Thursday, medics are providing Christmas Day only cover, meaning that emergency care only is being provided.

The strike comes just days after the last – consultants in England went on strike on September 19 and 20, and were joined by junior colleagues on September 20. Christmas Day levels of cover were provided on these days.

Junior doctors continued a full walkouts on September 21 and September 22.

Dr Banfield added: “There is clear evidence of the failure by some trusts to adequately prepare for industrial action. In particular the BMA is aware that some trusts have continued with significant amounts of elective activity during industrial action and have failed to reschedule non-urgent elective care in an attempt to meet political targets. This is causing unnecessary risk of harm.”

There are 7.68 million people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment.

It comes as the Prime Minister said the strikes are “politically motivated” and “not in the spirit of the NHS”.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Rishi Sunak said: “We have negotiated and reached pay deals with over a million NHS workers, including nurses and hospital porters.

“We have met the recommendations of the independent pay review bodies for junior doctors and consultants in full.

“We have cut the taxes on their pensions as they requested. But they continue to demand massive unaffordable pay rises.

“And that they have chosen to walk out this week says it all. This strike is all about politics, not patients.

“These strikes are not in the spirit of the NHS.”

By Press Association