Doctors’ strike ‘will hit drive to reduce NHS waiting lists’

Progress on clearing the NHS backlog is “under threat” after junior doctors launched a 72-hour strike, health chiefs said. Tens of thousands are thought to have joined picket lines across the country on Monday in the latest bitter wave of NHS industrial action over pay.

The walk-out was expected to be the most disruptive yet and lead to thousands more cancellations for those awaiting care.

Around 140,000 appointments and procedures have already been delayed during months of strikes by nurses, ambulance staff and physiotherapists.

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the 60,000 members of the British Medical Association (BMA) who were eligible to strike made up almost half the medical workforce.

He said: “Their work will need to be covered by largely consultants, associate specialists, staff grades and other staff, which in turn means significant disruption to patients who are waiting for operations appointments, outpatient services, and so on.

“We’re at a point where the NHS is driving towards reducing that backlog of patients needing operations, aiming to achieve no one waiting longer than 78 weeks by April.

“That is obviously under threat given the scale of this action and the fact that already as a consequence of industrial action…we’ve seen around 140,000, procedures, appointments and so on disrupted.”

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director, admitted that even cancer care may be disrupted.

He said the NHS was doing “everything we can to ensure that urgent cancer procedures go ahead but, unfortunately, even some of those may be affected this week, such is the extent of the disruption that we’re likely to see”.

He added: “If that does occur, we will reschedule people as quickly as possible.”

Shivam Sharma was among those on the picket line at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

He said junior doctors had faced a 26 percent real-terms pay cut in the last 15 years.

He added: “We are not worth 26 percent less, we don’t do 26 percent less work, we don’t see 26 percent less patients. In fact, the work has only gotten harder.

“If you or I were going into hospital critically unwell, we couldn’t want our junior doctor to be worrying about how they’re going to pay their bills.

“Something has to be done – we have to value doctors here if we are going to keep them.”

Outside University College Hospital in London, 29-year-old Rebecca Lissman said junior doctors just wanted “to be paid a wage that matches our skill set”.

The obstetrics and gynaecology trainee added: “We can’t give people the service they deserve and see them as quickly as they need because we are so stretched.

“I want to be in work, looking after people, getting trained. I don’t want to be out here striking but I feel that I have to.”

It is not yet clear how many junior doctors joined the strikes. Around 36,000 voted in favour of industrial action during a BMA ballot.

The union is asking for full pay restoration to 2008 levels, which would be equivalent to a 35 percent pay rise.

BMA representatives rejected a last-minute request from the Health Secretary to halt the walk-out on Saturday.

They said they were open to entering talks but would not agree to preconditions, including that all strike action be called off.

Mr Barclay yesterday on Monday urged the union to negotiate under the same terms offered to other health unions.

He said: “We are working extremely hard with NHS England and with hospital bosses to mitigate the impact of the junior doctors’ strike. That is why it’s important that we engage in meaningful and constructive talks with them.

“We stand ready to engage with the junior doctors in exactly the same way we have with other health unions.

“I urge the junior doctors to come and have those discussions as the other health unions have been doing, so we can pause the strikes and discuss those issues.”

The BMA last night urged Mr Barclay to drop “unreasonable pre-conditions” which it claimed were preventing the negotiation of a settlement.

These were said to include keeping discussions to future pay and limiting talks over 15 years of pay erosion to a one-off bonus payment.

The union’s junior doctor committee accused the Health Secretary of kicking the can down the road with 11th hour meeting requests.

Co-chairs Dr Rob Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said: “It is Steve Barclay who is stopping talks happening by putting up barriers he knows our members cannot accept.

“The preconditions go against the very thing junior doctors are in dispute over. It begs the question; does he even understand why doctors are so angry?”

They added: “We are asking him to drop the barriers he has put in place and start talking – doctors and patients deserve nothing less.”

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