Wednesday, 17 Jul 2024

One million operations cancelled by autumn – grim milestone in doctors’ strike

Experts delivered a withering assessment of the impact of ongoing industrial action and said fresh walkouts by senior doctors could be the tipping point in a near year-long dispute that has brought the health service to its knees.

Consultants are set to strike for a third time on Sep­tem­ber 19 and 20 and again on Oct­ober 2, 3 and 4 in action coordinated by the British Medical Association.

Since walkouts across the health service started, 900,000 operations and appointments have been axed.

The NHS Confederation, which represents organisations that commission and provide NHS services, said a “grim milestone” was fast approaching.

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Health Secretary Steve Barclay is “concerned and disappointed” at the continuing disruption at a time when the waiting list for routine care stands at a record 7½ million.

He said: “I’m aware some consultants cut short their annual leave over the most recent periods of industrial action by the BMA junior doctors committee and I am incredibly grateful to those staff who came forward to help protect patients and services.

“We have accepted the independent pay review body recommendations in full, giving consultants a 6 percent pay rise, which means average NHS earnings for consultants of £134,000, on top of a pension where generous tax changes mean a consultant can retire at age 65 with a pension each year for life of £78,000 a year. This pay award is final and I urge the BMA to call an end to strikes.”

Almost all routine care stopped for 48 hours last week after hospital consultants stopped working in a second round of walkouts. It was the tenth round of major strikes by NHS staff in nine months.

The NHS Confederation said each wave “chips away at the NHS’s resilience, impacting on staff, internal relationships and their ability to deliver on government pledges to reduce the backlog”.

Chief executive Matthew Taylor added: “We should not underestimate the impact on patients whose operations and appointments have now been put back.

“NHS leaders continue to be greatly concerned by the prospect of further strike action and this will inevitably harm our efforts to reduce waiting lists. We continue to call on the BMA and the Govern­ment to negotiate and reach common ground on pay so patients, staff and leaders alike can see an end to this dispute.”

The BMA claimed rising inflation had resulted in consultants’ take-home pay falling by 35 per cent over the past 14 years and vowed to stand its ground, paving the way for strikes to continue for the rest of the year and into next.

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Dr Vishal Sharma, the group’s consultants committee chairman, said: “No consultant wants to be striking, so we head out to picket lines with heavy hearts. We would much rather be inside the hospital seeing our patients.

“But we cannot sit by and watch as we are persistently devalued, undermined and forced to watch colleagues leave, much to the detriment of the NHS and patients.

“We are serious about protecting the consultant workforce and there­by the NHS and patients. Consultants are clear that they’re prepared to take regular action and politicians must be left in no doubt our dispute will not go away simply because they refuse to negotiate. We will not be ignored.”

Striking nurses were ultimately defeated, with the Royal College of Nursing humiliated after a ballot found no appetite among members to continue industrial action.

Junior doctors have walked out five times, meaning services have operated for more than 450 hours without one-third of the medical workforce over the past five months – equal to 19 full days.

The shambles comes after analysis of healthcare provided in 19 different countries found the NHS spends below average per person compared with other systems – and underperforms significantly on critical measures including cancer survival rates and life expectancy.

The state of the nation report revealed the NHS has “strikingly low levels of key clinical staff”, with fewer doctors and nurses per head than other systems and a heavier reliance on internationally trained staff.

The UK has three doctors per 1,000 people. Greece has more than twice as many, with 6.3 doctors per 1,000.

Dr Layla McCay, of the NHS Confederation, said: “The imminent workforce plan must outline how it intends to get the NHS back up the league table in terms of staffing.”

Daily Express columnist Professor Kar­ol Sikora said: “The NHS needs to get back to basics – make a fair pay deal with the frontline staff, ditch the political correctness and cut back the bureaucracy. Put patient care at the front and centre of everything.”

The NHS, which turned 75 in July, is Europe’s biggest em­ployer, but 112,000 posts inclu­ding doctors, nurses, paediatricians, lab technicians and cleaners remain unfilled.

Last year the late Queen awarded the George Cross, the UK’s highest civilian gallantry medal, to NHS staff for their exceptional efforts.

It was only the third time that the medal had been bestowed collectively to an organisation for great heroism and was the culmination of the outpouring of public support for the NHS during the Covid pandemic.

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