The four-day junior doctors’ strike next week threatens to have a “really, really significant” impact on patient care, the NHS Confederation has warned.
Layla McCay, policy director at the organisation, said health bosses are “genuinely very concerned about patient safety” during the industrial action, stretching from 11 to 15 April.
NHS leaders have “never worried about a strike as much as they’ve worried about this one”, she told Sky News.
The impending strike is “longer” than the last wave of action in March and it falls after the Easter Bank Holiday, meaning disruption is expected to last for up to 11 days, she said.
Unlike strikes held by nurses and paramedics, there are no agreed areas that are exempt from strike action during junior doctor walkouts. Although NHS leaders are attemping to protect emergency treatment, maternity and neonatal care as much as possible.
The NHS Confederation called for an urgent resolution to the pay dispute between the junior doctors’ trade unions and the Government.
Junior doctors are demanding full pay restoration after saying they have experienced a real-terms pay cut of 26 per cent since 2008/09.
The last junior doctors’ strikes in March saw thousands of consultants provide cover but health leaders do not expect this to happen again as many consultants either have annual leave booked due to the Easter school holidays or are more reluctant to put themselves forward.
Ms McCay said: “It’s not quite clear how to manage that level of capacity loss over such a long period of time.”
She said hospitals are working to put mitigations in place to “prioritise the most urgent care and patient safety”.
Health leaders say they are having to plan for the worst to protect patient safety, including by cancelling more appointments and elective procedures than they would like to.
This is to keep hospital bed occupancy levels – currently standing at over 95 per cent – as low as possible so support staff working next week can focus on urgent and emergency care services.
Last year, there were over 70,000 more calls to NHS 111 from Good Friday to Easter Sunday compared with the previous Friday to Sunday – a 37 per cent increase.
The four days of strikes will come immediately after the four-day Easter bank holiday weekend. They will run from 6.59am on Tuesday 11 April until 6.59am on Saturday 15 April.Show less