Some integrated care boards (ICBs) have advised patients against calling 999 unless ‘they have a serious illness or injury’ during this week’s junior doctors’ strike.
The warnings fall in line as part of NHS England’s wider messaging that the NHS will have to prioritise emergency and urgent care during the British Medical Association’s (BMA) 72-hour walkout, which begin today (13 March).
More than 36,000 junior doctors voted to strike until 7am on 16 March, in the hopes of reversing their ‘steep decline in pay’ since 2008 and to agree on a mechanism to prevent pay declines against inflation, the BMA has said.
ICBs have now taken it onto themselves to urge patients to access their services ‘wisely’, with some – such as Northamptonshire ICB – suggesting patients refrain from contacting emergency services unless they truly need to.
Matt Metcalfe, chief medical officer for Northamptonshire ICB, said: ‘Despite our system having plans in place to manage disruptions such as industrial action and urgent services will be prioritised, we expect minimal levels of Junior Doctors in our hospitals and this will inevitably have an impact.’
He added: ‘During this round of industrial action, probably more than any other, we are urging local people to only use 999 or attend ED if they have a life-threatening illness or injury to enable the clinicians who will be running our hospitals to care for those with the highest need.’
The ICB said patients should instead contact NHS 111 to be assessed if they have an urgent medical condition that is not life-threatening.
Other ICBs – including North West London, Derby and Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, and Greater Manchester – have similarly warned patients to only call 999 in a life-threatening emergency.
In Kent and Medway, the ICB’s chief medical officer Kate Langford said that ‘regardless of any strike action taking place, it is important patients who need urgent medical care continue to come forward as normal, especially in emergency and life-threatening cases’.
She said: ‘We anticipate and are planning for the action to have significant impact on services provided across all areas of the NHS, including our hospitals, accident and emergency departments, primary care (GP practices) and mental health services.’
And in Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin ICB, chief medical officer Dr Nick White stressed that patients should remember to use alternative services, expected to be less affected by the strike action.
‘During this time the priority will be to ensure those most in need of care are able to receive it,’ he said.
‘A&E departments will be open, and I cannot stress enough how important it is for people with life-threatening conditions to come forward as usual. However, there are a range of other services available – such as NHS 111 online, minor injury units, and community pharmacies.’
NHS medical director, professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: ‘We have no option but to prioritise emergency and critical care as a matter of patient safety, and we’re asking the public to help us and use 111 online as well as local services like general practice and pharmacies as first points of call, but people should of course always use 999 in a life-threatening emergency.’