Doc­tors’ strike off – now for the chaos

Daily Mail - - Front Page - By So­phie Bor­land and Sandy Rashty

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

only vic­tims’

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

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