Repeated strikes by health staff are making workloads ‘more challenging’, the chief executive of NHS England has admitted.

The health service is bracing for its biggest industrial action ever next month, with thousands of nurses across England going on strike on this week.

Around 1,000 ambulance workers in Wales also walking out.

There are expectations that thousands of operations and appointments will need to be cancelled over the next few months, but NHS England bosses hope that the industrial action could be resolved.

Repeated strikes by health staff are making workloads 'more challenging', the chief executive of NHS England has admitted

Repeated strikes by health staff are making workloads ‘more challenging’, the chief executive of NHS England has admitted

‘As the strike action is extended over long periods of time, and as those dates start coming closer together, it does get more challenging, there is absolutely no doubt,’ NHS England chief Amanda Pritchard told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘It is clearly having an impact. I think that’s obvious.’

She added: ‘My sense is that everybody is looking to try and reach a resolution.’

Health leaders have warned that emergency services are facing ‘alarming levels of stress’ and that more hospital beds were ‘desperately needed’.

Delayed discharge is one of a number of pressures the NHS is facing this winter, along with bed shortages, a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections, the worst flu season for a decade and ongoing strikes.

February 6 is likely to see the biggest strike action the NHS has ever experienced after the Unite union announced fresh ambulance worker walkouts.

Thousands of nurses from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) were already scheduled to strike on February 6 and 7, and the GMB union announced earlier this week that its ambulance workers would join them on February 6.

The calendar shows planned strike dates among NHS staff in the coming months. Nurses are on strike on January 18 and 19 and return to picket lines on February 6 and 7. The next ambulance strike is on January 23, followed by February 6 and 20 and March 6 and 20. NHS physiotherapists hold their first strike action on January 26 and then again on February 9

The calendar shows planned strike dates among NHS staff in the coming months. Nurses are on strike on January 18 and 19 and return to picket lines on February 6 and 7. The next ambulance strike is on January 23, followed by February 6 and 20 and March 6 and 20. NHS physiotherapists hold their first strike action on January 26 and then again on February 9 

'As the strike action is extended over long periods of time, and as those dates start coming closer together, it does get more challenging, there is absolutely no doubt,' NHS England chief Amanda Pritchard (pictured) said

‘As the strike action is extended over long periods of time, and as those dates start coming closer together, it does get more challenging, there is absolutely no doubt,’ NHS England chief Amanda Pritchard (pictured) said

Steve Barclay (pictured) insists he is working 'constructively' with unions in the dispute

Steve Barclay (pictured) insists he is working ‘constructively’ with unions in the dispute

On Friday morning, Unite said workers from five ambulance trusts in England and Wales would also join the strike on February 6.

Downing Street insisted that the Government was still open to facilitating talks with trade unions, while admitting that the planned walkout would cause further ‘disruption’ for patients.

Speaking to broadcasters during a hospital visit earlier this week, Health Secretary Steve Barclay appeared to rule out a 10 per cent pay rise for nurses, insisting it was ‘not affordable’.

‘Well 10 per cent is not affordable, it would be an extra £3.6billion a year and obviously that would take money away from patient services, essential services that we need to invest in given the backlogs from the pandemic,’ he said.

‘Now, within Government we take a whole Government approach – of course I have discussions with the Treasury, as do other Secretaries of State, and these things need to be balanced not just with the needs of teachers, with the Education Secretary, or train drivers with the Transport Secretary, but also what’s affordable for your viewers in terms of their own cost-of-living pressures.’

He insisted he was working ‘constructively’ with unions but said he was ‘disappointed’ in the strikes.

The above graphic shows the daily average of the number of 'medically fit' patients have been discharged from hospital

The above graphic shows the daily average of the number of ‘medically fit’ patients have been discharged from hospital 

His remarks come after 48,170 appointments and operations were postponed due to this week’s strikes. 

This includes almost 28,000 acute elective procedures and outpatient appointments, as well as more than 20,000 community elective procedures and mental health and learning disability appointments, according to figures from NHS England. Similar numbers of nurses walked out on December 15 and 20 – 9,999 and 11,509 respectively.

December’s strikes saw the postponement of almost 30,000 acute appointments and operations, hampering efforts to reduce waiting lists, which stand at 7.2million. 

No figures on non-acute appointments and procedures were published for December. 

Saffron Cordery, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said the figures show patients are ‘paying a heavy price’ for industrial action.

She said: ‘Operations and appointments are piling up and this number will continue to rise with more strikes on the horizon.’

Health leaders expect to postpone even more procedures on February 6 as ambulance staff and nurses strike on the same day for the first time. Nurses will also strike the next day. 

Patients may be left in agony for months waiting for rescheduled care.

In total, 48,170 appointments and operations were postponed due to this week¿s strikes

In total, 48,170 appointments and operations were postponed due to this week’s strikes

Some 11,363 nurses joined the industrial action this Wednesday and 11,219 on Thursday, figures from NHS England reveal

Some 11,363 nurses joined the industrial action this Wednesday and 11,219 on Thursday, figures from NHS England reveal

Unite has announced ten more strike dates, with members at five NHS ambulance trusts in England and Wales joining the industrial action on February 6. Tory MPs say there will be ‘avoidable deaths’. 

Unions want the Government to increase its offer of a 4 per cent pay rise, with the Royal College of Nursing demanding an inflation-busting 19.2 per cent.

The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association last night announced that its junior doctors had voted in favour of striking in a dispute over pay and will now agree ‘the timing and shape’ of the action. The union only had 531 members eligible to take part in the ballot.

Around 45,000 junior doctors who are members of the British Medical Association have also been balloted over strikes. The result is due at the end of February.

The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA), saw 97.48 per cent of junior doctors vote in favour of striking. The union said that 397 people out of 531 who were entitled to vote took part in the ballot.

HCSA president Dr Naru Narayanan said the ballot result should act as a ‘wake-up call’ to the Government ahead of the BMA result, and called on them to ‘negotiate a way out of this crisis’.

Dr Narayanan said: ‘The Government must see this result as a wake-up call from its current complacency.

‘Junior doctors are telling us they have had enough of being taken for granted. They are telling us they will leave the country if things do not get better.

‘This is a critical issue for our NHS.

‘If the Government does not increase pay as part of a wider funding package, then the current ragged workforce will collapse and the hospital consultants of the future will vote with their feet and leave.

‘We are teetering on the edge of a precipice. Now is the time to negotiate a way out of this crisis.’

A spokesman for the Prime Minister called it ‘disappointing’ that strike action would take place amid major strains on the NHS, but said the Government was committed to reaching a ‘resolution’.



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