NHS coping with UK's junior doctors strike

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Hospitals in England have coped well with the all-out strike by junior doctors – the first in the history of the National Health Service – health bosses are reporting. Junior doctors walked out at 08:00 BST on Tuesday, returning at 17:00 BST. A second day of strike action is due to begin at 08:00 BST on Wednesday.

BBC News reports that a number of hospitals had run smoothly – with some saying they were quieter than normal. But there are fears demand could surge once the strikes are over. Meanwhile, figures released by NHS England showed 78% of junior doctors due in work did not turn up.

In preparation for the stoppage, hospitals cancelled more than 100,000 routine appointments and nearly 13,000 non-emergency operations. This has allowed them to redeploy consultants, middle-grade doctors and nurses into emergency services, such as accident and emergency, maternity and intensive care units. GPs were also asked to keep more appointments than normal free for last-minute urgent calls, and NHS 111 staffing has been boosted to allow it to deal with extra calls.

The planning seems to have worked, with no hospital triggering an emergency escalation procedure that would allow them, via the NHS England and the British Medical Association, to call striking junior doctors back into work if they felt they could not cope.

Ipswich Hospital CEO Nick Hulme said his trust had been coping well – and more doctors than expected had come into work, 23 out of 122, suggesting an all-out strike had been a "step too far" for some. But he said both sides needed to come back together to resolve the dispute "quickly", saying it was getting "really difficult" for the NHS to cope with the backlog of postponed operations.

Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust reported everything was "running smoothly" during the final hours of the walkout, while Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said it had not seen "undue pressure", although it did "anticipate a surge in demand" once the strikes were over.

Dr Cliff Mann, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said demand at his hospital trust – Taunton and Somerset – had been quieter than normal and he was "absolutely" sure lives had not been put at risk because of the cover provided by other doctors and nurses.

The report says earlier, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the walkout was a "very, very bleak day" for the NHS, but once again stressed the government would not back down, saying no union had the right to stop a government trying to act on a manifesto promise.

The dispute is over a new contract that the government announced in February would be imposed from the summer. This followed the breakdown of talks between the two sides in January, the report says. The contract makes it cheaper to rota doctors on at weekends – something ministers say is needed to improve care on a Saturday and Sunday.

The BMA has argued it is unfair and the NHS needs extra investment to pay for seven-day services. The report says before this week's strikes, there had been four walkouts but all involved emergency care being covered by junior doctors.

 

New figures showed one in three hospitals already in crisis ahead of the strikes, reports The Daily Telegraph. More than 125,000 operations and outpatients’ appointments had been cancelled ahead of the two-day action which for the first time has affected Accident & Emergency, intensive care and maternity units.

Freedom of Information disclosures have revealed emergency measures already taken by NHS trusts in the months ahead of the strikes. The new figures show that 58 out of 152 NHS trusts experienced "serious operational problems" between December and February – forcing them to cancel operations, divert patients away from Accident & Emergency patients or leave patients stuck in queues of ambulances outside casualty units.

The report says in total, 626 operational problems were declared by NHS trusts in the three month period – a third more than during the same period two years earlier, the analysis by Labour shows. Justin Madders, shadow health minister, said hospitals were at "breaking point".

 

A poll has found, meanwhile, that the majority of the public supports the junior doctors' strike, reports The Independent. The Ipsos MORI poll found 57% of adults in England support the strike.

And, the report says, as the strike got underway, there was an outpouring of support for the doctors across social media, while an informal poll on Sky News showed viewers backed the action by more than 70%. And the overwhelming opposition to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt over the issue appears to have prompted him to tell the BBC it will be his "last big job in government".

The survey of 861 English adults also found public support for an all-out strike, where no emergency care being provided, is higher than was initially suggested when the same question was asked in January. While 57% support the current walkout, just 44% said they would when asked in January. However, support for this round of strike action is slightly lower than for previous strikes, when emergency care was not affected. Nearly one in five (18%) strongly oppose the full walkout.

The report says an increasing number of people see both parties at fault for the continuing dispute, with over a third (35%) blaming the doctors and the UK government, up from 28% in March and 18% in February.

The report says that on Sunday, Hunt refused to trial an alternative contract in exchange for cancelling the strike. Junior doctors say the new government-proposed contract – which redefines what are considered "anti-social" working hours – is unsafe for patients, as doctors will have to work more unsocial hours.
The dispute has become increasingly bitter and has seen junior doctors go out on strike for the first time in 40 years.

Hunt has also been criticised by the director of the World Health Organisation who says the contract contradicts the status of women set out by the UN.

Full BBC News report Full report in The Daily Telegraph Full report in The Independent Poll

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