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Union blames HOSPITALS for 'unsafe' staffing levels during strikes

Militant BMA blames HOSPITALS for ‘unsafe’ staffing levels during strikes as NHS bosses warn ‘Christmas Day’ cover is harming patients

  • Joint strike action by junior and senior medics runs until 7am Thursday this week
  • READ MORE: NHS medics vow to strike ‘until next general election and beyond

Militant union bosses say it’s not their fault patients have been left at ‘unnecessary risk of harm’ during NHS strikes.

In a row with health service officials, The British Medical Association (BMA) points the finger at hospitals themselves for failing to cancel procedures in the run-up to walk-outs by junior doctors and consultants.

Such action would have better-prepared hospitals to cope, it said.

The BMA’s defence was made in response to an intervention by four NHS England chiefs over the ‘significant disruption’ and ‘risk to patients’ the ongoing strikes are causing.

NHS leaders claimed the ‘Christmas Day’ level of staffing during the strikes, where only emergency care is guaranteed, is unsafe. 

Pictured: BMA members protest outside the Manchester Library during the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester

Professor Philip Banfield (left), council chair of the British Medical Association (BMA), said the NHS itself was to blame for problems in urgent care due to not cancelling elective operations ahead of historic strikes. His criticism came after NHS England’ s national medical director of NHS England Professor Sir Stephen Powis (right) wrote a letter to the BMA warning the ‘Christmas Day’ staffing being offered during the industrial action was putting patients at risk

It is particular hampering A&E units, with industrial action having a knock-on effect on ambulance response times and casualty queues because of a lack of space in hospitals, they said.

Writing in a letter to the BMA, bosses warned strikes were ‘impacting on our ability to manage individuals who require time-sensitive urgent treatment’. 

This includes cancer and heart patients, as well as mothers-to-be needing planned C-sections. 

But the BMA hit back saying NHS hospitals had failed to prepare adequately for the joint walkout of junior medics and consultants. 

Council chair Professor Phil Banfield claimed hospitals ‘have not been appropriately rescheduling non-urgent elective activity in the days leading up to and during strike action’.

READ MORE: NHS medics vow to strike ‘until next general election and beyond’ as consultants and junior doctors rally outside Tory party conference 

This failure to cancel planned ops led to the problems with hospitals running out of space, he claimed. 

‘There is clear evidence of the failure by some trusts to adequately prepare for industrial action,’ Professor Banfield wrote.

‘In particular the BMA is aware that some trusts have continued with significant amounts of elective activity during industrial action and have failed to reschedule non-urgent elective care in an attempt to meet political targets.’

The NHS letter was signed by Sir Stephen Powis and Dame Ruth May, NHS England’s most senior medic and nurse, respectively. It was also signed by NHS England’s chief workforce officer Navina Evans and interim chief operating officer Sir Jim Mackey.

It comes as consultants and junior doctor enter their final day of joint strike action.

Both are pushing for better pay, despite the Government insisting that it won’t budge.  

Consultants earn £130,000 on average, but want an extra 11 per cent. 

Junior doctors  earn between £32,000 and up to £63,000. They are pushing for a 35 per cent increase. 

Last night the BMA warned it could continue striking until the next general election and beyond in its pursuit of pay.  

‘We are increasingly concerned that the cumulative impact of this action is causing significant disruption and risk to patients,’ the NHS letter said. 

Official data released today shows strikes by consultants and junior doctors last week including a joint one-day walkout meant 133,494 routine procedures and appointments had to be rescheduled. It takes the total number of appointments cancelled to 1,018,648

As part of the unprecedented walk-out, junior doctors and consultants are only offer ‘Xmas Day’ levels of staffing until 7am Thursday. Pictured, junior doctors and consultants from the British Medical Association (BMA) protesting outside the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester

‘We are extremely concerned Xmas Day cover is insufficient to ensure appropriate levels of patient safety are being maintained across local health systems.

‘In addition, successive days of Xmas Day cover are significantly impacting on the ability of systems to maintain flow throughout our emergency pathways, which in turn is resulting in delayed ambulance handovers, deteriorating ambulance response times and long waits for patients in emergency departments.

‘We are becoming increasingly concerned that combined periods of industrial action are impacting on our ability to manage individuals who require time-sensitive urgent treatment, for example cardiac, cancer or cardiovascular patients, or women needing urgent caesarean sections.’

The NHS officials called for more talks with the union to discuss how to strengthen patient safety during walkouts, including putting more striking medics back on the frontline. 

Rishi Sunak yesterday argued doctors were offered ‘more than anyone else in the public sector and they refused’. 

The Government gave junior doctors a pay rise worth between 8.1 and 10.3 per cent. 

Around 7.68million patients in England or one in seven people were in the queue in July for procedures such hip and knee replacements, official figures show. This includes almost 390,000 patients who have waited at least one year for treatment, often in pain. The monthly performance data showed the waiting list grew by more than 100,000 between June and July

Consultants in England have taken to the picket lines on four separate days so far this summer, while junior doctors have staged 19 days of strike action this year. Both will return to the picket lines together on October, 2, 3 and 4. Radiographers are also set to join medics by walking out for 24 hours from 8am on October 3. The strike days also coincide with Rishi Sunak’s first Tory party conference as leader and prime minister

Consultants were also handed an extra 6 per cent as part of the deal, recommended by the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration’s (DDRB).

Hospital consultants this week urged Mr Sunak to let the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) get involved to try to bring an end to their pay dispute. 

Mr Sunak has insisted strikes are the ‘number one reason’ for record NHS waiting times.

Currently 7.7million people are in the queue for routine operations like knee and hip replacements.  

However, the BMA have said short staffing and a lack of resources in the NHS are to blame. 

The NHS letter comes after it was revealed that pregnant women are having their planned C-sections cancelled amid the disruption. 

One anonymous woman, who is 39 weeks pregnant, said it felt like she had ‘lost all control’ of her birth. She claims her ‘earliest replacement date’ is more than a week after her due date, adding: ‘I was told I should not go over my due date.’

Campaigners warned the delays might be a ‘breach of human rights law’.

‘I was told I should not go over my due date. The earliest replacement date is more than a week after my due date,’ the unidentified woman told Sky News.

‘I feel like I have now lost all control of the birth.

‘I think I will be pushed for an induction before the C-section booking if I have not gone into labour.’

Planned caesareans are usually done from the 39th week of pregnancy. The risk of stillbirth is higher in mothers-to-be who go over 42 weeks.

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  • Posted on October 4, 2023