Some trusts with A&E services may choose to turn patients away during the 96-hour junior doctor strikes this week, integrated care boards (ICBs) have warned.
The BMA confirmed that the second round of industrial action will see a complete stop to work, including night and on-call shifts, and non-resident work.
BMA members taking part in the four-day walkout – which began this morning (11 April) and ends at 7am on Saturday (15 April) – will be joined by members of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA).
Sussex ICB has now told patients that trusts in its footprint may redirect people from their A&E to other services if they can be safely seen elsewhere.
The ICB expects its hospitals to have fewer than half the normal doctors working at any given time, with thousands of patients’ appointments postponed this week to allow staff to better prioritise care.
Dr George Findlay, chief executive of University Hospitals Sussex, said on behalf of the ICB: ‘Without these highly skilled and valued members of our workforce, hospitals simply have to prioritise our emergency services, and life-preserving care – this means our A&E teams must prioritise care for those who genuinely need their specialist skills, and other people may be directed elsewhere.’
Other ICBs have similarly warned patients to reconsider contacting their local pharmacy, GP practice, walk-in centres, minor injury units or urgent treatment centres if their issue is not life threatening.
Dr Dave Briggs, medical director at Nottingham and Nottinghamshire ICB, said: ‘There will be major disruption during the strike period and we are urging people to only attend A&E or call 999 in an emergency. Junior doctors do a vital job, so losing this part of our workforce over a four-day period will have a big knock-on effect.’
Ifti Majid, chief executive at Nottinghamshire Healthcare Foundation Trust, said: ‘We rely on the skills of our junior doctors, they make a vital contribution to our Trust and I respect their right to take industrial action. These strikes will cause disruption across the healthcare system and I hope that talks can start soon and a solution is found.’
The strikes this week are primarily being held over pay. The BMA has said the wage for junior doctors has fallen 26% in the last 15 years. It has called for a 35% pay rise to bring salaries in line with 2008-09.
In a new media campaign, the union flagged that three junior doctors will make £66.55 between them for removing an appendix – highlighting ‘how little they are paid for their roles in surgical procedures’.
Last week, Healthcare Leader’s sister title Pulse reported that at least four hospital trusts in London have offered £150 to £200 an hour to GPs willing to cover for junior doctors going on strike next week.
Dr Colette Marshall, regional medical director for NHS England in the Midlands, said: ‘NHS staff will be working incredibly hard, as ever, and this is always a busy time for our services so we would ask patients to use them wisely.
‘There will be an impact on services due to the strikes but the NHS has tried and tested methods to manage any disruption and we will continue using these, while asking for the support of patients.’