Now NHS is left 'adrift and rudderless' as consultants strike two days

Now NHS is left ‘adrift and rudderless’ as consultants go on strike for two days – leaving just a ‘Christmas Day’ level of service behind

  •  Consultants will not deliver non-urgent care from 7am as they pursue pay rise
  •  Strike estimated to cancel tens of thousands of appointments

The NHS will be placed on ‘red alert’ and left ‘adrift and rudderless’ when consultants strike for two days from today, health chiefs warn.

The senior medics on average incomes of £134,000 will refuse to deliver any non-urgent care from 7am as they pursue a 35 per cent pay rise.

It comes despite a warning from Health Secretary Steve Barclay that last week’s 6 per cent pay offer was a ‘final’ one.

The stoppage is expected to result in the cancellation of tens of thousands of appointments and operations and comes as waiting lists stand at a record 7.47 million.

Union leaders have admitted to using patients as ‘leverage’ in their bid for more pay and accept the walkouts will scupper Rishi Sunak’s odds of fulfilling his pledge to cut waits.

Consultants will refuse to do non-urgent care from 7am today, leaving tens of thousands of appointments cancelled (stock photo)

Junior doctors on a picket line outside St Thomas Hospital, London during walkouts last week

Mr Barclay said he was ‘disappointed’ the consultants had decided to plough ahead with their action despite being awarded a pay rise last week.

The health secretary said the doctors have also benefited from recent changes to pension rules and could expect to retire at 65 on an income in excess of £60,000 a year.

Consultants will provide a ‘Christmas Day’ level of service during their strike, meaning they will deliver urgent care only.

This follows a five-day walkout by junior doctors, which ended on Tuesday and was the longest in the history of the NHS.

They withdrew all care, including from cancer wards and A&E, but consultants were able to cover many of their shifts.

Although the consultant strike is less exhaustive, it is expected to be more disruptive as junior doctors are unable to step-up to cover for absent senior colleagues.

The two strikes are likely to see the total number of appointments and operations cancelled as a result of industrial action pass the 1million mark since December.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents healthcare organisations, said: ‘The NHS will be on red alert over the next two days as it responds to tens of thousands of consultants going on strike for the first time in over ten years.

‘Health leaders are doing everything they can to minimise disruption, including by reducing the volume of planned procedures and appointments but cancellations and longer waits are still expected as urgent and life-critical services have to be prioritised.

‘This will be like nothing the NHS has seen in the last eight months of industrial action, because with consultants being absent, much of what junior doctors, nurses and other frontline professionals usually deliver will not be possible without this senior level of clinical supervision.

‘Many health leaders have told us they are deeply concerned by the long-term impact prolonged industrial action is having on the NHS’s ability to reduce waiting lists, improve staff morale and patient satisfaction.

‘They feel like the government has buried its head in the sand by refusing to acknowledge this.’

He added: ‘The only certainty at the moment is that this impasse leaves the NHS adrift and rudderless; all parties must get back to the table to find a solution that gets the NHS moving again.’

The BMA says consultants’ pay has been cut in real-terms since 2008 and is calling for pay restoration and reform of the pay review body that advises ministers on salary increases.

It claims their income has increased by 14 per cent over this period, while the likes of lawyers, accountants and architects have seen rises of almost 80 per cent.

‘Christmas Day’ levels of service as a result of walkouts will see the NHS put on red alert, as waiting lists stand at 7.47 million

Dr Vishal Sharma, chair of the BMA consultants committee, said: ‘This dispute is not just about one year’s pay settlement, it is about the reality of 14 years of consultant pay falling behind, about our a loss in our pay in real terms of 35 per cent and the broken pay review system that has allowed this to happen.

‘There is absolutely no justification for the wages of some of the country’s most senior doctors to not have kept pace with those of comparable professions.’

The BMA last night published new figures showing its members is at an all-time high, with record numbers joining the union.

Total membership currently stands at 190,366, up by more than 25,000 compared with this time last year.

It comes as the union is offering doctors the opportunity to ‘join today and pay no membership fee for three months’.

Mr Barclay said: ‘I hugely value the work of NHS consultants which is why we have accepted the independent pay review body recommendations in full, giving them a 6 per cent pay rise this year, on top of last year’s 4.5 per cent increase.

‘This government has also reformed pension tax rules for consultants, something the BMA campaigned for over many years.

‘I am disappointed the BMA is going ahead with this week’s strike, given the average consultant’s NHS earnings are expected to increase to £134,000 a year.

‘My door is always open to discuss non-pay issues, but this pay award is final so I urge the BMA to end their strikes immediately.’

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