'Don't get ill at Christmas': Hospitals face struggle to keep patients safe over holidays due to junior doctors' strike

19 December 2023, 23:09 | Updated: 20 December 2023, 00:27

Members of the BMA will walk out for three days from 7am on Wednesday
Members of the BMA will walk out for three days from 7am on Wednesday. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Hospitals face a struggle to keep elderly patients safe over the Christmas period due to the biggest doctors' strike in history.

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Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) will begin a three-day walkout from 7am on Wednesday, before going on strike again for six days from January 3.

NHS leaders and charities have warned the strikes pose a significant threat to patient safety, particularly the elderly.

"It will be extremely difficult to ensure safe and effective care during this period for all patients that need it," a coalition of charities, led by Age UK, said on Tuesday.

Elderly patients may even end up "stranded in hospital" - even if they are ready to leave - because there will not be enough doctors to discharge them, The Times reports.

Junior doctors will walk out over Christmas
Junior doctors will walk out over Christmas. Picture: Getty
Elderly patients could become 'stranded' in hospital
Elderly patients could become 'stranded' in hospital. Picture: Getty

“The timing, duration and fact that — as yet — no national [exemptions] have been agreed is cause for alarm,” the letter says.

“As a minimum, we are calling on all parties to take a step back and agree national [exemptions] in our most vital ‘life and limb’ services so they can continue to operate in full over the period.”

Read More: Cheltenham A&E department closing or restricting treatment over festive period due to junior doctors' strikes

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The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak criticised the junior doctors for their strikes, urging them to get back around the negotiating table.

He told the Liaisons Committee: “We have now reached a resolution with every other part of the public sector and every other part of the NHS.

He added: "The only remaining people who have not settled are the junior doctors.”

Rishi Sunak has criticised the junior doctors' strike
Rishi Sunak has criticised the junior doctors' strike. Picture: Getty

Hospital chiefs have been pleading with junior doctors to provide exemptions for 'life and limb' care in a bid to keep patients safe.

It comes after Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust announced that Cheltenham A&E has temporarily closed from now until 8am on Saturday 23 December due to the strikes.

It will also close again on Monday 1 January at 8pm for 24 hours.

The Cheltenham General Hospital's A&E unit will deal only with minor injuries and illness, diverting A&E cases to another hospital.

Cheltenham General Hospital, Cheltenham, UK
Cheltenham General Hospital, Cheltenham, UK. Picture: Alamy

During those periods, no minor injury and illnesses unit (MIIU) services will be provided.

Treatment provided over the Christmas and New Year periods will remain restricted.

Dr Ananthakrishnan Raghuram, chief medical officer at NHS Gloucestershire, said: "The latest round of strikes at the busiest time of the year will bring substantial challenges to the local NHS, particularly hospital services, and we are sorry that many patients will experience disruption to services.”

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