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Safe care can’t be guaranteed if five day strikes go ahead, NHS boss warns

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i4895 (Published 08 September 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4895
  1. Matthew Limb
  1. Manchester

NHS England’s chief executive has warned junior doctors that further planned strikes will do patients “no good” and that trusts will be unable to guarantee safe care.

Asked about the dispute at NHS England’s Expo 2016 conference in Manchester on Wednesday 7 September, Simon Stevens said that he was studying new assessments made by hospitals of the likely effects of further planned five day strikes by junior doctors. Though the five day strike set to begin on Monday 12 September has been cancelled,1 three more are scheduled to take place: one every month till the end of the year.

Stevens said that the notice given by the BMA for the industrial action that was due to start next week was “entirely inadequate, based on what local hospitals were telling us.” But he added that hospitals were concerned not just about the notice period but about the effects the action would have had whenever it took place, because “the vital importance of junior doctors to the NHS can never be underestimated.”

He said, “We should be in no doubt that it will not be possible to ensure there will be no harm to patients even with several weeks’ notice if we really are talking about multiple weeks of up to 50 000 doctors not being available for emergency care at hospitals across the country.

“I don’t want to say more until we’ve had a further chance to go back to hospitals and ask them to refresh the assessments they’ve done, but no good for patients will come out of the kind of action that is still on the table.”

Stevens was asked whether NHS England knew how much strikes would cost the NHS. He replied, “It’s not so much the financial cost as the impact on patients. What it means is that patients who needed their outpatient appointment or operation are having those deferred, and where it’s a day or two the hospitals have been able to cope. But when it’s repeated in blocks of perhaps five days at a time then the potential impact for urgent care and knock-on for patients with very substantially high risk conditions is far greater.”

In a later conference session England’s health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was directly challenged over his handling of the dispute and was accused of failing to value junior doctors and patients. Charlotte Peters-Rock, representing a Cheshire based campaign group, said, “If we have junior doctors leaving the service because no one will deal adequately with them, this is a disgrace on the national health service. We really must have better treatment for our workforce than this.”

Hunt responded, “I completely agree with you that valuing the workforce is going to be absolutely essential going forward. Junior doctors do a fantastic job, they work very long hours, nights and weekends, and I very much hope we can resolve our current dispute quickly.”

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