A letter from the head of the NHS has told hospitals that they should prepare for indefinite strike action by junior doctors.
The industrial action from NHS workers is set to intensify after the latest two-day strike failed to produce a satisfactory resolution.
Simon Stevens has warned trusts to start disaster planning and warned that some hospital services may have to close if strikes continue.
Stevens also warned NHS trusts across the UK that pressure caused by the strike that took place this week may have consequences for the immediate future.
It is estimated that 125,000 patients suffered delayed care thus far as a result of the industrial action, and Stevens believes that there will be “spillover” as a result of this action; increasing pressure on hospitals in the coming weeks.
With concern over the ability of hospitals to cope, Stevens had requested every NHS trust draft contingency plans.
These will detail how organisations intend to cope in the event of intensified and extended industrial action, which is indeed predicted by the healthcare boss.
Last week leaked emails revealed that members of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors’ committee are discussing indefinite strikes.
The British Medical Association has indicated that there are numerous options still on the table for junior doctors, and that they simply will not accept the imposition of the contract proposed by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
In the letter, Stevens – and Jim Mackey the head of the NHS regulator – warns of potentially devastating consequences of such action, which would have “wide-ranging impacts” on patients.
The letter goes on to praise the response of the NHS to the widespread walkouts, but warns that the situation is far from resolved, and that there will be further disruptions in the immediate future.
“There will also be spillover consequences, with over 125,000 patients having had their needed care deferred from this week into the days and weeks ahead. Unfortunately it also appears that further industrial action is possible, including the possibility floated by the BMA of a full and indefinite withdrawal of junior doctor labour. This would clearly have wide ranging impacts on patients. If drawn out for an extended period, there would likely be major implications for elective care and urgent care and the ability of hospitals to keep certain departments and services running.”
Although the tone of the letter from Stevens is largely negative, it should be noted that public opinion is generally shifting behind the strikers and industrial action.