NHS heads warn pay dispute is adding to strain on hospitals
Hospitals will struggle to clear treatment backlogs and improve emergency care unless the NHS pay dispute is settle soon, health service bosses have warned in advance of next week’s series of walkouts.
The “intensifying wave of industrial” action is leading to thousands of operations and outpatient appointments having to be rescheduled, putting extra strain on an already overburdened system.
“It is becoming harder to deal with the constant disruption caused by ever more strike days,” the NHS Confederation, which speaks for health service heads in England, said on Saturday.
“The significant progress made by the NHS to clear the treatment backlogs and improve urgent and emergency care is in doubt unless the intensifying waves of industrial action … are brought to and end,” it in advance of strikes next week by nurses, ambulance staff and physiotherapists.
NHS bosses have voiced deep unease about the potential impact of Monday’s unprecedented joint walkout by nurses and ambulance staff, which will be the biggest strike in the NHS’s history. At least one group of staff will also strike next Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Their warning today comes after it emerged that the health service has already had to cancel 88,000 appointments and procedures because of the seven strikes since 15 December.
The confederation added: “With no end in sight and the possibility of strikes from junior doctors and hospital consultants on the horizon, the increasing concern from health leaders is not solely about the harm and disruption on the day but on the cumulative impact on the NHS and local communities.”
In a fresh plea to the government to resolve the dispute, they urged ministers “to show initiative” or risk patients needing care being forced to wait longer for care and treatment. There are already 7.2 million people on the waiting list for hospital treatment in England – by far the highest number ever.
“We face a hugely disruptive week for patients,” said Matthew Taylor, the confederation’s chief executive. “The government cannot afford to let this escalate any further. We urge ministers to take the first step and find a resolution to this deadlock with the unions.”
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has infuriated health unions by imposing a £1,400-a-head pay award for 2022/23, which they have denounced as another real-terms pay cut, given rampant inflation. That equates to a rise of between 4% and 5% for most staff.
Barclay has tried to find a way of increasing that sum as unions have made clear that stoppages will continue until they receive a bigger award. However, his attempts to find a way of resolving the dispute have faltered as Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, has refused to provide any more money to help break the deadlock.skip past newsletter promotion
Sign up to First EditionFree daily newsletter
Unions have not met Barclay since an apparently productive encounter on 11 January. They have responded to the impasse by announcing plans to increase the frequency of strikes and also the number of NHS trusts where they call members out.
In England nurses will strike on Monday and Tuesday, physiotherapists on Thursday and paramedics, call handlers and other ambulance staff on Friday.
The Royal College of Nursing is expanding the number of trusts at which it holds a stoppage next week to 73, from the 55 last month and 44 in its two initial walkouts in December.