NHS patients are being “hit hard” by industrial action, a health leader has said, as it emerged 137,000 appointments have been affected by strikes.
The service has faced strikes by nurses, ambulance staff and physiotherapists over the past few days in an “incredibly disrupted week”, amid months of ongoing action.
Data published by NHS England shows 137,081 appointments have been delayed due to industrial action in less than two months, with more than 49,000 postponed on Monday and Tuesday.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “There are no winners in this situation: patients are being hit hard, trusts can’t deliver the care they want, and staff feel they have no choice but to join the picket lines. We cannot afford for industrial action to become the new normal in the NHS.
“Although trust leaders are incredibly adept at managing challenging situations, these prolonged strikes threaten to cause major long-term damage to the NHS, including hampering efforts and hard-won progress to tackle care backlogs.
“We’re also concerned that fewer ambulance journeys on strike days could mean fewer patients get the urgent care they need, when they need it, and demand intensifies.
“Trust leaders understand why staff are striking, and are doing all they can to ensure high-quality care for patients on those days, but the high number of postponed operations and appointments will continue to climb unless a resolution is found.
“We all know what needs to happen next. The Government must start talking to the unions urgently about pay for this financial year.”
Monday saw the largest strike in NHS history as tens of thousands of workers in England staged walkouts, including members of the Royal College of Nursing alongside GMB and Unite paramedics, call handlers and other staff at ambulance trusts.
Union leaders have implored ministers to act to prevent further strike action, but ministers in England have indicated that they will not budge on one of the main points of contention – pay for 2022/23.
Members of the University and College Union and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy will mount picket lines outside universities and hospitals on Thursday.