Doctors’ strike off – now for the chaos
THE junior doctors’ strike was called off last night just hours before it was due to begin – but thousands of operations will still be cancelled.
An 11th-hour truce was achieved between the Government and the doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, after arbitration. Controversial plans for new doctors’ contracts, forcing them to work evenings and weekends, have been put on hold.
Nearly 40,000 junior doctors were due to stage a 24-hour walkout at 8am today, and hospital managers cancelled more than 20,000 operations in anticipation of the strike action.
TODAY’S junior doctors’ strike was called off at the eleventh hour last night, causing chaos as NHS bosses scrambled to limit the damage to cancelled operations.
Hospitals had already drawn up plans to cope with nearly 40,000 staff staging a 24-hour walk-out from 8am.
Managers had scrapped more than 20,000 operations and patients were urged not to visit A&E units where possible.
But just after 7pm last night, the British Medical Association, the doctors’ union, announced the strike would be suspended for the moment after it reached what Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called a ‘potential agreement’ over new contracts.
It left the BMA with very little time to tell thousands of junior doctors to turn up for work rather than joining picket lines.
Only two days ago, union leaders had warned doctors the strike was ‘ almost inevitable’ and many had been making placards and T-shirts for picketing.
Hospital bosses have also spent the past few weeks drawing up contingency plans which included nurses and consultants being moved off usual duties to cover for striking colleagues. Around 20,000 patients have had vital operations scrapped, including 1,500 for cataracts, 630 hip and
‘Patients are the
knee procedures and 400 for work on the spine.
Another 17,500 outpatient appointments scheduled for today were postponed – and some patients will have to wait several weeks for another.
NHS England had urged the public to look out for vulnerable relatives and neighbours during the strike.
Many GP surgeries also cancelled routine appointments today ahead of anticipated demand from patients who would normally have gone to A&E.
The doctors had planned a 24hour ‘emergency only’ day today, then two all- out strikes on December 8 and 16 – the first full walkouts in NHS history.
They have now agreed to suspend the protests until January 13 for more negotiations starting today, after five days of talks with the Government through the conciliation service ACAS.
In return, the Government agreed to suspend its threat to impose a new contract.
The BMA was last night emailing members to tell them but many may still fail to turn up for work this morning, having not read the message.
Last night NHS bosses apologised to patients whose operations and appointments had already been cancelled.
At Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 90 out of 624 operations were rescheduled, plus 565 of around 5,000 outpatient appointments.
Weston Area Health NHS Trust in Somerset cancelled around a third of 320 outpatient appointments It had stopped booking operations when the BMA ballot came back as a Yes.
Joyce Robins, of Patient Concern, said: ‘It is quite ridiculous that it was left to the very last minute. The only victims are unfortunate patients.’
Jeremy Hunt had said in Parliament yesterday afternoon a ‘potential agreement’ had been reached with the BMA but the union waited more than three hours before confirming the strikes were off.
The dispute centres on a proposed contract for junior doctors which sees them working more at weekends, for less money.
Mr Hunt wants to increase staff levels at weekends, when patients are more likely to die. He has promised to raise basic salaries by 11 per cent but junior doctors claim overall pay will fall due to cuts to out-of-hours’ payments.
Anger: Junior doctors had marched in protest against the proposed new contracts