The NHS is set to reach the ‘grim milestone’ of 1 million cancelled operations since strikes began this weekend as consultants today start another walkout.
Health chiefs are bracing for five days of major disruption as consultants down tools ahead of the bank holiday weekend.
Routine care is expected to reach a standstill over the next 48 hours causing a ‘massive headache’ for hospitals, whose numbers are already depleted due to staff holidays.
As today’s action got underway, the British Medical Association announced plans for further strikes in autumn, adding October 2, 3 and 4 to those already confirmed on September 19 and 20.
Union officials said it was with ‘heavy hearts’ that consultants would head to picket lines today, stating it is 150 days since the Health Secretary last met with them.
Hospital consultants on the picket line outside the University College Hospital in London during their last strike in July
More than 700,000 NHS appointments have been cancelled since strikes began seven months ago. In the latest five-day walkout by junior doctors, more than 100,000 were called off
England’s backlog, for procedures like hip and knee replacements, now stands at 7.6million, official figures revealed yesterday. It means roughly one in seven people across the country are currently stuck in the system awaiting care. More than 380,000 patients have gone a year without being treated, often in agony
Steve Barclay said he was ‘disappointed’ consultants had gone ahead with their action which comes despite a 6 per cent pay rise, while thanking those who ‘cut short’ annual leave to cover the last strikes by junior doctors.
Consultants have also benefited from recent changes to pension rules, he said, and could expect to retire at 65 on an income in excess of £78,000 a year, adding that ‘this pay award is final’.
Hospital leaders have expressed concerns over the timing of the strike ahead of the bank holiday weekend, which could put many services out of action for five days.
They warned the recent warm weather could lead to a hike in demand at a time many staff are already on annual leave.
Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS England’s national medical director for secondary care, said: ‘This latest action will again hit the NHS hard, with almost all routine care being affected.
‘It also comes at a time when many staff are taking annual leave, so teams are already stretched, and some parts of the country have seen warm weather this week, which usually leads to an additional rise in demand for services, so we would ask people to take the usual precautions.’
Consultants will provide a ‘Christmas Day’ level of service during the strike from 7am on Thursday until 7am on Saturday, meaning they will only deliver urgent care.
Urgent and emergency care will be prioritised, with people to continue using 999 for life threatening emergencies and NHS 111 for other health concerns.
Official figures show more than 897,000 routine procedures and appointments have been delayed due to eight months of strike action, costing the NHS an estimated £1 billion.
But this tenth round of largescale strikes is set to tip the number of delayed treatments over one million mark, with the true scale of disruption caused likely to be far higher.
Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of NHS Confederation which represents healthcare organisations, said he ‘fears’ the impact this will have on ‘weary’ staff and patients.
He said: ‘It’s too late to stop this walkout, but the failure to put an end to this situation has put the Prime Minister’s pledge to reduce waiting lists in real jeopardy; another round of industrial action after this one may deliver a knockout blow to backlog hopes.
‘All sides must do whatever it takes to avert the further walkout planned by consultants for September and prevent the NHS from reaching the grim milestone of one million cancelled operations.’
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he was ‘disappointed’ consultants had gone ahead with their action, which comes despite a 6 per cent pay rise
The BMA says consultants pay has been cut in real-terms since 2008 and is calling for pay restoration and reform of the pay review body that advises ministers on salary increases.
Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chairman, said: ‘No consultant wants to be striking and we head out to picket lines today with heavy hearts.
‘We would much rather be inside the hospital seeing our patients. But we cannot sit by and watch passively as we are persistently devalued, undermined and forced to watch colleagues leave — much to the detriment of the NHS and patients.’
Mr Barclay said: ‘I am concerned and disappointed that the BMA has gone ahead with this industrial action, which will continue to affect patients and hamper efforts to cut NHS waiting lists.
He added: ‘We have accepted the independent pay review body recommendations in full, giving consultants a 6% 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.’