UK

Health leaders warn NHS ‘struggling to catch its breath’ amid strikes

The NHS will be ‘struggling to catch its breath’ between strikes this week, health leaders have said (Jacob King/PA)
The NHS will be ‘struggling to catch its breath’ between strikes this week, health leaders have said (Jacob King/PA) The NHS will be ‘struggling to catch its breath’ between strikes this week, health leaders have said (Jacob King/PA)

Back-to-back strikes by junior doctors and consultants will leave the NHS “struggling to catch its breath”, health leaders have said.

Junior doctors in England went out on strike from 7am on July 13 to 7am on July 18.

The five-day walkout was the longest in NHS history and is expected to have led to hundreds of thousands of operations, procedures and appointments being cancelled or postponed.

Just two days after the junior doctors’ strike came to a close, consultants are to stage their first walkout in the current dispute.

Hospital consultants will take to picket lines across England from 7am on July 20 but will still be providing “Christmas Day cover” during the 48-hour strike – meaning they will still provide emergency care.

Health leaders have warned the walkout by consultants – the most senior NHS doctors – will cause “serous disruption”.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “After five days of walkouts by junior doctors, the health service will be struggling to catch its breath ahead of industrial action from senior consultants and health leaders will be dismayed by the prospect of more to come.

“Leaders anticipate serious disruption over the coming days despite their diligent efforts to prepare.

“A consultants’ strike is something of an unknown quantity and while there are plans in place for Christmas Day levels of cover in emergency care, the patience of patients may be tested as wider services are reduced and operations postponed.

“This, in essence, is two Christmas Days back to back and follows a working week’s worth of walkouts from other staff, so it’s very much a step into the unknown.

“Leaders completely understand the frustrations of staff, but if this pattern continues hopes of clearing the backlog will dwindle and the NHS will be stuck in a state of near suspended animation. We’ve got to see a willingness to engage from both sides.”

Last week the Government announced pay increases for millions of public-sector workers, including doctors.

Junior doctors will receive a 6% rise along with an additional consolidated £1,250 increase, officials said, while hospital consultants will receive a 6% rise.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the deal was the “final offer” and that there will be “no more talks on pay”.

As a result, hospital consultants announced they will also strike for two additional days on August 24 and 25.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Even before their first strike in this round of industrial action begins, consultants have announced their next walkout will be on 24 and 25 August.

“These dates will be especially tough as it will be just before a bank holiday weekend, when demand piles up even without a strike and many staff who would cover will be on leave.

“Trust leaders understand why many staff who have seen their pay fall behind inflation for years, and feel undervalued, are taking what can be a very difficult decision to strike. But the NHS simply cannot cope with indefinite escalation of this action.”