NHS strikes may have caused two million appointments to be cancelled

NHS strikes may have caused as many as two million appointments to be cancelled, health leaders warn

  • A total of 1,015,067 operations and consultations have been affected by strikes
  • The NHS Confederation said the true number was likely to be twice as high

NHS strikes are likely to have been far more disruptive than previously feared with 2 million appointments cancelled, health leaders warned last night.

Four days of industrial action by doctors led to 130,000 operations and consultations being postponed last week, official new figures show.

It takes the total number impacted at the last minute to 1,015,067 since nurses first walked out in December.

However, the NHS Confederation, which represents healthcare organisations, said the true number is likely to be up to double this, as many hospitals have stopped booking appointments on strike days.

Rory Deighton, the confederation’s director of the acute network, described the tally as ‘grim’ and added: ‘The true scale of the cancelled appointments could be much higher, with the official figures only recording cancellations on the day.

A total of 1,015,067 operations and consultations have been impacted by strikes since nurses first walked out in December (Pictured: Doctors striking in London last week)

Four days of industrial action by doctors led to 130,000 operations and consultations being postponed last week, official new figures show (Pictured: Doctors striking in London last week)

‘NHS trusts now routinely preempt the strikes by not filling slots that could otherwise be used for elective activity, meaning operations and appointments are often not being booked in, so our members are telling us that the true impact is much higher, perhaps as much as double what the figures show.’ 

Mr. Deighton said strikes have cost the NHS around £1 billion, with hospitals spending vast sums on paying consultants overtime to cover for absent junior colleagues.

Consultants walked out on Tuesday and Wednesday, and were joined by junior doctors on Wednesday. 

The junior doctors’ strike then continued until 7am on Saturday.

At the peak of the action, on Wednesday, there were 26,802 staff absent from work due to industrial action.

Both groups will walkout again for three days next week to coincide with the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

It comes as waiting lists stand at a record high of 7.7 million and as hospitals are trying to tackle a huge backlog that built up during the Covid pandemic.

Health leaders had described the first every joint strike as a ‘nightmare scenario’ and a ‘step too far’, warning patients would be put at risk.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay (pictured) called on NHS staff to take the offered deal

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘Today marks the grim milestone of over 1 million appointments cancelled as a result of strikes, with coordinated and calculated industrial action by the British Medical Association creating further disruption and misery for patients and NHS colleagues.

‘Regrettably, the BMA is threatening to escalate strike action again next month, which would mean the number of cancellations rising further and adding to the pressures on health services as we head into winter.

‘Doctors have received a fair and reasonable pay rise – as recommended by the independent pay review bodies.

‘My door is always open to discuss how we can work together with NHS staff to improve their working lives, but this pay award is final so I urge unions to end this damaging disruption.’ 

Dr Vin Diwakar, national medical director for secondary care and transformation at NHS England, said: ‘These figures reveal just part of the relentless impact of strikes over the last ten months with the number of appointments rescheduled hitting more than 1 million, with pressure on services increasing as junior doctors and consultants took joint action last week for the first time in the history of the NHS.

‘We know that each appointment rescheduled is incredibly difficult for patients and families, and as we prepare for further joint action next week, there is precious little time for staff and services to recover.’

Lance McCarthy, the chief executive of Princess Alexandra Hospital Trust, told Hertfordshire and West Essex integrated care board on Friday: ‘We shouldn’t underestimate the impact industrial action is having.’

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said: ‘We can’t go on like this. It’s an uphill battle.

‘The consequences of each successive strike are deeper and wider and take longer to sort out, and add to trusts’ mounting costs.’

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