More doctors strikes to come

Another round of strikes is set to hit east London’s health services next week.

Between 7am Monday and 7am Thursday (October 2-5), junior doctors and consultants will only provide “Christmas Day” levels of cover.

This means hospital emergency services will still be staffed but other wards are likely to have the “lowest safe level of staffing”.

The British Medical Association (BMA), which has organised the strike action, says both types of doctors striking is part of its “escalation strategy” in a campaign to see pay restored to 2008/9 levels.

Last week’s strikes saw junior doctors and consultants strike on the same day for the first time.

The NHS advises that east Londoners with life-threatening health issues are advised to call 999 as usual, while those with non-urgent conditions should consult a pharmacist, GP or call 111.

Matthew Trainer, chief executive of BHRUT, which runs Queen’s Hospital in Romford and King George Hospital in Goodmayes, has warned of the strain strikes have put on health services this year.

In a statement issued on September 28, Mr Trainer said: “The ongoing strikes are costing us millions of pounds, damaging morale, and leading to longer waits for treatment. Our doctors feel their skills, hard work and dedication aren’t valued.

“I am particularly worried about our junior doctors. They are our future consultants, medical directors and CEOs. They believe they are not being treated with respect.

“We need meaningful negotiations and a settlement. An imposed pay award and repeated strike action isn’t tenable as the NHS heads into winter. We can’t run our hospitals like this.”

BHRUT says it has had to rearrange 351 outpatient appointments and 21 non-urgent surgeries.

Previous strikes caused 11,531 rearranged outpatient appointments and 958 non-urgent surgeries, with an estimated cost of £5.9million.

Barts Health – which runs accident and emergency services Whipps Cross Hospital, The Royal London and Newham University Hospital – will also be affected by the strikes.

A spokesperson has confirmed that it will continue to provide maternity, urgent and emergency care, but that those with less urgent health needs “may experience longer waiting times”.

They added: “If there are changes to an appointment that you have arranged at our hospitals during the strike period, we will contact you. If you do not hear from us, please attend your appointment as normal.”

NHS leaders in east London have said they expect the strikes to continue in the coming months.

Earlier this week, Health Secretary Steve Barclay told the BBC patients who are “shouldering the brunt of the BMA’s relentless strike action”.

He added: “My door is always open to discuss how we can work together with NHS staff to improve their working lives, but this pay award is final, so I urge the BMA to call an end to this callous and calculated disruption.”

Dr Chris Streather, medical director, NHS London, said: “The latest action by junior doctors, consultants and others comes at a difficult time, when the NHS across London is already working through nearly 40,000 rescheduled appointments resulting from action just a few weeks ago.

“As always, our focus throughout remains on patient safety and providing the best level of car we can in the circumstances.

“As such, emergency care will be prioritised, but we would urge Londoners to be mindful, and to phone NHS 111 for queries that are not urgent. Unless they’ve heard otherwise, people should attend booked appointments as per usual to minimise the chance of further rescheduled appointments.

“As we enter our tenth month of strike action, we are increasingly concerned about the impact on patients awaiting planned care.

“At NHS London, we are actively working with our hospitals to see how we can minimise the cancellations of time critical procedures.”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service at a picket line outside The Royal London Hospital last week, a consultant criticised the government for “refusing” to talk to doctors about pay.

Dr Simon Walsh, a Barts Health consultant in emergency medicine and deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s UK consultants committee, said: “Concerns around pay are directly related to the retention of doctors in the NHS and are impacting on the ability for doctors to provide patients with the service they need.

“East London, like many parts of the country, has difficulty retaining the most valuable staff.

“We’re talking about people who have gone through years and years of training, people who completed a degree and we are increasingly finding that consultants are leaving the NHS and going abroad on the global market where pay and conditions are much more favourable than on the NHS.”

“At the moment the government’s only response to that is to bring in more people as medical students, but if you got a leaky bucket on the way to fix that is to fix the leak, rather than pouring more water in.”

Dr Walsh apologised for any delays patients are seeing to their care due to strikes, but said there is already a “strong link” between doctors leaving the NHS and “record waiting lists”.

He added: “Having too few doctors means it’s much more difficult to do the job.

“There’s more stress, burnout and sickness and people are leaving the NHS because they are unable to sustain it.”

If you have been affected by the health strikes, contact josh@socialspider.com

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter