Junior doctors will strike for six days this week, marking the longest consecutive strike action taken in the NHS’ history.
Health leaders have warned trusts will be ‘skating on the thinnest of ice’ and that patient safety will be put at serious risk.
The strikes will begin tomorrow (Wednesday 3 January) at 7am and will end at 7am on Tuesday 9 January: a total of 144 hours of uninterrupted stoppages.
The NHS Confederation highlighted that this will lead to thin rotas and local services being placed in highly vulnerable positions.
Rising levels of flu, norovirus and Covid-19 in hospitals combined with higher staff absences due to Covid will also heighten the risk, it said.
The BMA and the Government were unable to agree to nation derogations for the January strikes, but there is an agreement in place whereby junior doctors can be recalled for major incidents and extreme circumstances.
The Confederation said NHS leaders are calling on the BMA to respond to requests for junior doctors to be recalled and for the judgement of senior managers to be trusted when they say they need urgent cover.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said: ‘Many NHS trusts will have thin rotas and will be in a highly vulnerable position as they enter what is widely regarded as the busiest week of the year for local NHS services. Parts of the NHS will be skating on very thin ice, and they will need the BMA to back any recall requests for junior doctors when services find themselves under extreme pressure.’
He added: ‘To face almost 150 hours of continuous stoppages is a serious and unprecedented risk – and one that NHS leaders and their staff have never experienced before. The good news is that the NHS has again prepared extensively and has had to become adept at planning for strikes.
‘While they will again do all they can to mitigate the risks, especially for patients needing emergency care, they have again been left with no choice but to schedule in less activity in anticipation of the strikes. That means more delays for patients who have faced lengthy waits for routine treatment.’
The BMA has been contacted for comment.