The long-running dispute between the Government and around 37,000 junior doctors represented by the BMA shows no signs of resolution. These junior doctors have now taken the unparalleled step of withdrawing from providing emergency services. Over the next two days, emergency units at hospitals across the country will be affected by the walk-out.
The strike affects junior doctors who belong to the doctors’ union, the BMA. There are around 55,000 junior doctors working in the NHS.
Previous strikes have affected routine services, resulting in the cancellation of planned surgery and routine consultations. The current strike has already led to the postponement of almost 13,000 operations and over 100,000 appointments. But the extension of the strike to emergency services marks a shift in the dispute. It is the first time doctors have withdrawn from providing emergency care, including Accident and Emergency, maternity and intensive care services. The move signals that both sides seem to be increasingly entrenched.
There is widespread concern that drawing emergency services into the strike materially increases the risk to patient safety. By definition, patients’ needs for these services cannot be put off until the strike is over. The NHS reports that it has put in place extensive contingency plans to try to cope with the walk-out, cancelling leave, redeploying clinical staff and calling on patients to carefully choose the NHS services they use during the strike.
Commenting on this latest development, Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team, said: “There have been numerous recent attempts by both sides in this dispute to negotiate a resolution to avoid this strike action. Yet there seems to be complete intransigence from both the Government and doctors’ representatives. The dispute over pay and hours, particularly for weekend cover, now affects emergency care. No amount of mitigation can dispel the risk to patients of the lower staffing levels throughout this strike.
“There is no evidence that either side is ready to compromise further. The Government is seeking to impose new contracts on junior doctors regardless. Meanwhile, it seems inevitable that further strikes will follow. The risk to patient safety is a grave concern and threatens to jeopardise care for months to come. The longer the dispute runs, the greater the likelihood of serious adverse events. We would urge both sides to work together to avoid any further threat to patients.”