Record-breaking doctors' strike piles pressure on England's health service
Wednesday, 03 January, 2024, 19:30
The longest strike in the history of the NHS is getting under way as junior doctors take part in a six-day walkout. Thousands of junior doctors, who make up nearly half the doctor workforce in the NHS, are expected to take part in the stoppage in England from 07:00 GMT. NHS bosses fear it will bring routine services to a virtual standstill in some areas. The action follows the breakdown of pay talks last month between the government and British Medical Association. BMA junior doctors' leader Dr Vivek Trivedi told the BBC that ministers needed to come forward with a credible offer. "Anyone from the government could still come to us today and if we thought that offer was credible, and if we can resume talks and build on that, then we can stop our strike action for the rest of the week," he said. But Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said junior doctors had to call off their strike before she was prepared to get back to the negotiating table. She said she wanted to find a "fair and reasonable solution to end the strikes once and for all". Ahead of the strike, NHS England medical director Prof Sir Stephen Powis said the NHS was facing one of its most difficult starts to a year since 1948. Sir Stephen said rising rates of respiratory illnesses, such as Covid and flu, and staff sickness were making this walkout "very challenging" in what is always one of the busiest times of the year for the health service. Routine hospital services, such as planned operations, like hip and knee replacements and check-ups, will be hugely disrupted. David Probert, chief executive of University College London Hospitals, said the "vast majority" of routine appointments at his trust would have to be cancelled. This is because senior doctors are being moved across to provide cover in emergency care. But even then, not every area is able to keep all its A&E services running.