Express & Star

Advice for West Midlands patients as junior doctors begin five-day strike

Junior doctors are striking for five consecutive days starting at 7am this morning.

File photo dated 20/12/2023 of junior doctors and members of the British Medical Association (BMA) on the picket line outside University College Hospital, London, during their continuing dispute over pay. Patient safety will be put at risk in the next round of junior doctor strikes in England, NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor has warned as he pleaded for ministers and the British Medical Association (BMA) to end the dispute. Junior doctors in England have returned to work after a 72-hour stoppage, but are preparing for the longest strike in NHS history from January 3. Issue date: Saturday December 23, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story INDUSTRY Strikes. Photo credit should read: James Manning/PA Wire

The bitter industrial dispute between the junior doctors and the Government is set to impact patients across the Black Country and Staffordshire.

However, local NHS bosses have promised hospitals will still be open for treatment but say patients should check before turning up for appointments, which could be cancelled.

Dr Ananta Dave, chief medical officer for the NHS Black Country Integrated Care Board, said: “Ahead of the upcoming industrial action, I’d like remind people that the NHS is still here for you if you need it. However, during this busy time where services are already under strain from the pressures of winter, we’re asking people to consider whether A&E is the most appropriate place for their needs, and if it’s not, to seek alternatives.

“NHS 111 online or by telephone is available 24/7 for urgent medical advice but it's worth remembering that most common ailments at this time of year can be effectively managed at home with advice from a local pharmacy.

“By ensuring you choose the most appropriate service, you will not only you save time waiting, but you will be treated by the most appropriate healthcare professional for your needs. This will also help NHS services to manage demand and ensure hospitals can focus on treating people with serious and life-threatening conditions."

Dr Mark Anderson, chief medical officer at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, admitted the strike will be "challenging" for local services.

He said: “The strike action planned for this week will bring challenges to the local NHS, particularly hospital services.

“Urgent and emergency services will be open across the Black Country, but it is vital that people use these services appropriately so that our emergency teams can focus on treating those who are seriously unwell.

“Hospitals will also need to reschedule some hospital treatments and appointments, but unless patients hear otherwise, they should attend as planned. There's no need to check, as patients will be contacted directly if their care needs to be reorganised.

“We’d like to thank all NHS colleagues who are working tirelessly to keep services running over the industrial action.”

The junior doctors, who are demanding a pay rise, will return to work on Wednesday at midnight and emergency care will be prioritised over the next five days.

Dr Dave said: “We are extremely grateful for the way the public have supported the NHS throughout these periods of industrial action and for continuing to use NHS services appropriately during these times of pressure.”

GP practices will continue to be open as normal during the industrial action, so patients are being told to attend GP and dental appointments as normal.

Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins wants an end to the strikes by junior doctors.

She said: “I want to see doctors treating patients, not standing on picket lines. In negotiations with the BMA Junior Doctors Committee, we made it clear we were prepared to go further than the pay increase of up to 10.3 per cent that they have already received. They refused to put our offer to their members.

“More than 1.3 million appointments and operations have already been cancelled or rescheduled since industrial action began – five days of further action will compound this."

She added: “The NHS has robust contingency plans in place, and it is vital that people continue to come forward for treatment. But no one should underestimate the impact these strikes have on our NHS. So again, I urge the BMA Junior Doctors Committee to call off their strikes and show they are prepared to be reasonable, so that we can come back to the negotiating table to find a fair way forward.”

By the end of this action, hospital doctors will have taken 44 days or 1,056 hours of industrial action, equating to around 12 per cent of the year.

NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “It’s not possible to have one in every 10 days affected by strikes for over a year without it having a huge impact on services, patients, their families, and staff.

"Coupled with today’s figures which show bed capacity is constrained, with more patients in hospital than this time last year - and thousands of patients in hospital with flu, norovirus and Covid-19 - alongside ongoing demand for urgent and emergency care, the enormous challenge faced by the NHS is clear."