NHS appointments cancelled during strike action ‘to surpass one million’

The number of cancelled appointments in England is upwards of one million (Lucy North/PA)
The number of cancelled appointments in England is upwards of one million (Lucy North/PA)

Strikes in the NHS have become “normalised”, the head of the service has said, as the number of NHS appointments cancelled because of strikes in England is expected to surpass one million.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, highlighted the “hard” situation for the health service as the bitter dispute between the Government and doctors from the British Medical Association (BMA) shows no sign of resolve.

It comes as NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, estimates the first ever double strike action by junior doctors and consultants last week means the country will reach the “damaging and demoralising” new milestone in figures set to be announced later on Monday.

Industrial action began in December 2022, with the official number of inpatient and outpatient appointments and operations cancelled currently standing at 885,154, according to NHS England.

If community and mental health figures are included, the total is more than 940,000 – although this will not reflect the overall number of actual cancellations, due to some duplication of data.

In a message to healthcare leaders across England, Ms Pritchard wrote: “I know for providers in particular last week was another very challenging one dealing with industrial action.

“From the clerical teams who have to explain to understandably frustrated patients that their appointments or procedures need to be rescheduled, to our clinical leaders who have to balance the rights of colleagues to withhold labour with the need to maintain the safety of patients, we know that – while industrial action becomes more normalised for the public as time goes on – for many of those caught in the middle it feels harder and harder.

Doctors on strike
Junior doctors and consultants on the picket line outside University College Hospital, London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“Colleagues displayed heroic effort again last week, and there will be little, if any, downtime before planning starts for the next round of action.”

Further joint strikes are planned next week on October 2, 3 and 4 where both junior doctors and consultants in England will provide “Christmas Day” cover only.

Commenting on the strike impact data, Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “The immediate concern has to be with patients – more than a million and counting – whose care or treatment has been delayed.

“Trust leaders understand only too well the distress this can bring them and their loved ones. Every effort has been made to mitigate the impact of successive strikes but the rising disruption figures tell only a small part of the story.

“With the official tally of figures capturing those procedures and appointments that we know are rescheduled, thousands more patients will be affected because trusts are simply not booking in care for strike days known well in advance.

UK strikes in September & October
(PA Graphics)

“Behind every delay there is a real and human cost. How many more reasons are needed for an end to the dispute?”

She told Sky News that resolving the dispute will help to bring down the record backlog of care in the NHS.

One of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s key priorities is to cut the NHS waiting list in England – which currently stands at a record 7.68 million.

“I think the critical thing here… is that it’s absolutely in the Government’s gift and the union’s gift to come round the table, have the conversations and resolve the strike action,” Ms Cordery said.

“If we resolve the strike action, then we will be in a position where we can start to bring down the waiting list.”

Professor Phil Banfield, council chairman of the BMA, said: “The last thing we ever want is to cause further disruption to the patients in our care and I am extremely sorry that it has come to this. But these strikes are about the long-term sustainability of the NHS and ensuring there are trained doctors around to care for all patients in the future.

“It is doctors, with their skills and expertise, who have continued treating patients despite years of relative pay erosion, a pandemic that was a brutal experience for doctors, nurses and other carers – as well as so many families – and the challenges of dealing with the worst waiting lists in the NHS’s history which have impacted patient care across the last decade and more.

“It is the Government that chooses not to acknowledge the cost and value of medical care – it is in their hands to safeguard the retention and recruitment of doctors in the NHS for years to come.

Industrial strike
Appointments in England have been cancelled due to strikes (James Manning/PA)

“The longer the Government buries its head in the sand, the more both strikes and waiting lists cost the public purse.

“It’s a no-brainer to invest in the future of the NHS workforce rather than waste further money refusing to pitch a credible pay offer.

“Our door has been open for over a year and we hope for the sake of our patients that the Government eventually listens.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The co-ordinated action next week will create further unacceptable disruption for patients and fellow NHS staff.

“We accepted the independent pay review body’s recommendations in full, meaning doctors who started their hospital training this year are receiving a 10.3% pay increase, with the average junior doctor getting 8.8%. Consultants are receiving a 6% pay rise and are already in the top 2% of earners in the country.

“This pay award is final, and the majority of unions representing over one million other NHS workers have accepted our offer and called off further strike action.

“The Health and Social Care Secretary is clear his door is open to discuss non-pay issues if the BMA call an end to this damaging disruption.”