The NHS in England has seen a significant number of appointments and treatments being postponed due to strike action, reaching almost one million. Last week’s 48-hour walkout by consultants resulted in over 45,000 cancelled appointments. Since the start of industrial action in December, a total of 885,000 hospital appointments have been postponed, which increases to 944,000 when including mental health and community bookings.
The actual number of affected appointments is expected to be even higher, as services have stopped scheduling appointments on strike days. This exclusion of strike day appointments in the figures released by NHS England is likely to underestimate the true impact.
Apart from consultants, junior doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, ambulance workers, and radiographers have also participated in strikes at different times. NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis highlighted the immense impact of industrial action on the healthcare system and patients. He expressed concern over the cumulative effect of over nine months of disruption and emphasized the challenges faced by the health service in addressing the resulting backlog.
Consultants have announced plans for further strikes in September and October, while junior doctors are awaiting the results of a re-ballot on strike action. The alarming escalation of strikes has raised concerns among NHS management representatives. Sir Julian Hartley, from NHS Providers, noted that approximately one million people across England have experienced postponed appointments due to walkouts, with additional unbooked appointments due to the strike itself.
While acknowledging the reasons behind the staff’s decision to strike, NHS leaders are worried about the impact on patient care and the morale of the workforce. Junior doctors have requested a 35% pay rise to compensate for below-inflation wage increases over the past 15 years. Consultants have also expressed their dissatisfaction with similar cuts and demanded pay increases above inflation.
The government recently granted doctors an additional 6% pay rise, resulting in an average increase of nearly 9% for junior doctors, in line with the recommendations from an independent pay review body. However, ministers have indicated that these settlements represent the final offers. The outcome of the junior doctors’ re-ballot is expected to be announced shortly.
As the strike action continues, it poses significant challenges for the NHS, with healthcare professionals striving to tackle the growing backlog amid ongoing industrial action.