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Hospital bosses concerned about latest junior doctor strikes

Junior doctor strikes set to take place just days before Christmas and in the first week of the new year have sparked concerns for hospital bosses facing a seasonal peak in demand for services.

Stafford's County Hospital

The British Medical Association has announced further industrial action will take place in December and January after the latest bid to resolve an ongoing pay dispute was unsuccessful.

Hundreds of planned operations have been cancelled as a result of previous industrial action this year. And the strikes have cost University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHNM) Trust, which runs Royal Stoke and Stafford’s County Hospital, £4.1m in backfill arrangements during the current financial year, a report to the trust board said.

UHNM will be receiving £9m to cover this and the wider costs of industrial action however, board members were told on Wednesday (December 6). But they remain worried about the impact of the latest action, which will see junior doctors on strike between 7am on December 20 and 7am on December 23 and again between January 3 and 9.

Chief executive Tracy Bullock said: “We have now received dates for the ongoing junior doctors’ strike action – December 20 to 23 and again in the first week of January. These will be very difficult times for the NHS.

“There is an offer on the table for consultants and they are being balloted on that. We want to see if that’s accepted or becomes a problem down the line.”

Board members heard that an industrial action plan would be included as part of overall planning for winter demand. Leigh Griffin, one of the board’s non-executive directors, said “I’m extremely concerned about the potential dreadful impact that could have during the peak winter period.

“I want to note the significant amount of planning required to mitigate these risks, on top of all the planning that goes into management of winter. It is important we are all sensitive to the amount of work required and the ask that will be required of so many people to mitigate the impact.”

Medical director Dr Matthew Lewis said: “Previously we have continued to run urgent and emergency care services effectively and previously there was some degree of assurance. The particular concern going into Christmas and New Year is we previously relied on discretionary efforts (from other staff).

“We can’t assume that will be available to us during the Christmas and New Year period because a lot of people will want to be taking annual leave. I think this particular strike action is concerning,”

The trust’s chief operating officer Simon Evans said plans set out in recent weeks to tackle the elective care backlog had assumed there would be no further industrial action however. “It is at a time when we are going to be at our most exposed and vulnerable”, he said.

“That said, we have history of responding to industrial action very well; we protect our emergency care and cancer services effectively. I expect that we don’t shy away from that position and continue to deliver safe and effective services over that winter period.”

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