Doctors have been out on strike for the equivalent of a whole month in 2023, the head of the NHS has warned as she implored medics and the Government to resume talks.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, called for “serious discussions” between the British Medical Association (BMA) and ministers to prevent further disruption to the service.
Consultants have said they will not call any more strikes until November to allow time for negotiations.
During the walk-out, NHS England warned that the action was hampering the service’s ability to help people in need of urgent care, including cancer and heart patients and women in need of Caesarean sections.
In a new message to healthcare leaders across England, Ms Pritchard said strikes had impacted a million appointments and had potentially impacted “hundreds of thousands more patients”.
“Hospital doctors have undertaken 720 hours of industrial action in total since March – equivalent to facing a full calendar month, 24 hours a day, without a significant proportion of our medical workforce,” she wrote.
“We know that more than a million appointments have had to be rescheduled, and significantly more displaced, potentially impacting hundreds of thousands more patients. And, of course, IA (industrial action) is having an impact on urgent and emergency care too.
“But it goes without saying that what we would all prefer is for serious discussions between government and unions to resume, with a view to finding a resolution before what we already know will be a challenging winter.”
Professor Philip Banfield, chair of council at the BMA, said: “It’s good to see NHS England finally join calls already made by other health leaders, the public and, of course, ourselves, for the Government to meet with us and work with us towards ending the current pay disputes and preventing future industrial action.
“We have repeatedly written to the Government inviting them to pay talks, and they have repeatedly refused to meet with us.
“With no strike days announced, there is nothing preventing the Government from meeting with us. We’d urge the Prime Minister and Health Secretary to listen to the growing number of voices calling for them to return to the table to discuss restoring lost value of doctors’ pay and not to waste this valuable window of opportunity.”
“The frequency of these debilitating strikes is also making it incredibly difficult for services to recover.
“Doctors have received a fair and reasonable pay rise – as recommended by the independent pay review body, which we’ve accepted in full.
“This means doctors who started their hospital training this year are receiving a 10.3% pay increase, with the average junior doctor getting 8.8% and consultants are receiving a 6% pay rise alongside generous reforms to their pensions – the BMA’s number one ask.”