Junior Doctor Strikes

The NHS in the South West is facing significant disruption to routine care this week due to industrial action, just as we enter one of the busiest periods of the year for the service.

Junior doctors across the NHS will begin striking at 7am on Wednesday (20 December) until 7am on Saturday 23 December.

With the run up to Christmas already a busy time for the NHS, the strike is expected to have significant impact as the NHS focuses on ensuring patients needing urgent and emergency care can be treated safely.

This means some routine appointments and operations will be postponed. Hospitals are contacting people directly should their appointment need to be delayed; therefore, people should continue to attend any appointments as planned if they are not contacted.

Dr Michael Marsh, NHS England South West Medical Director, said: “The NHS is always busy during the winter months and in particular over the Christmas and New Year period as staff take a well-earned break to be with family and friends.

“Add industrial action to that pressure means the NHS has to prioritise urgent and emergency care to ensure people are cared for safely. That does mean having to postpone routine appointment and operations so that staff are freed up to cover for junior doctors.

“We are asking people to help the NHS by continuing to use 999 in life-threatening emergencies and NHS 111 online for all other health concerns. GP services and pharmacies are also available for patients and can be accessed in the normal way.

“Patients who haven’t been contacted or informed that their planned appointment has been postponed are also urged to attend as normal.”

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “These strikes come at a time that will cause huge disruption to the NHS, with services are already feeling the strain of winter pressure.

“When you factor in the Christmas and New Year break, these strikes will prolong that period of reduced activity and it also puts the health service on the back foot into the new year, which is a time where we see demand start to rise significantly.

“Over the holiday period, I would encourage anyone who needs medical help to continue to come forward – in a life-threatening emergency, call 999 and use A&E in the usual way. For everything else, use 111 online.”

Top tips to help the NHS over the festive period:

  • Use 999 in life-threatening emergencies. If you are unsure of the service you need use 111 online or by phone.
  • If your loved one is in hospital and well enough to leave, help support them to get home at the earliest opportunity.
  • Make sure you have enough regular medication and don’t leave repeat prescription requests until you have run out. Your own GP can help arrange an urgent medication supply if you do run out.
  • Make use of pharmacies. Pharmacists are open over weekends and can give you expert, confidential advice and over-the-counter remedies for minor illnesses and ailments. You don’t need to make an appointment to see a pharmacist.
  • Call your own GP – even if you’re on holiday – when surgeries are open. They offer appointment via telephone and video, so you don’t need to be there I person.
  • Parents can download the free NHS HandiApp for advice about common childhood conditions.
  • Check which of your local pharmacies is open over the festive period, and when, here.

NHS Herefordshire and Worcestershire’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Will Taylor said: “We are working closely with our partners to make sure patients can access the care they need, in a safe environment, during industrial action and over the Christmas bank holidays.”

Healthcare leaders across the two counties are asking local people to think carefully about the services they use during the period and to be proactive to avoid preventable illness to ensure emergency services are there for those who need them.

Dr Christine Blanshard, Chief Medical Officer, Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust said: “With strikes taking place over the lead-up to Christmas and in the New Year, we are expecting services to be under increased pressure. Our Emergency Department team will be working exceptionally hard prioritising patients with life or limb threatening injury and illness to provide lifesaving care for those patients in the greatest need. Patients whose condition is less serious may be asked to seek treatment elsewhere or face an extremely long wait.

“If your condition is less serious you can call 111 or visit 111 online, which is a free NHS Service. They can quickly direct you to the right health service, including out of hours GP appointments. Pharmacists can also help with a range of common conditions and minor injuries.

“Local people can play their part to help reduce pressures on services by only using 999 and A&E for genuine life-threatening emergencies and using NHS 111 online or by phone for other care needs or if you’re unsure about whether you should go to hospital.” 

Dr James Bartlett, Clinical Director, Acute and Emergency Medicine, Wye Valley NHS Trust, said: “We’re doing all we can to ensure we provide safe services during the industrial action this week.

“We’re expecting it to be very busy and we can only do so much. We really are appealing for people to help us by choosing wisely and only visit our Emergency Department if they are seriously sick. There are alternatives and we’d urge people to consider these.”

“If you have an appointment, please continue to come forward for the care you need. Please don’t call to check if your hospital appointment is going ahead, you’ll be contacted directly if it needs to be rearranged.”

During strike action the NHS will prioritise resources to protect emergency treatment, critical care, neonatal care, and trauma, and ensure we prioritise patients who have waited the longest for elective care and cancer surgery. Appointments will only be cancelled where it is necessary and will be rescheduled immediately, where possible. If you have an appointment, please attend unless you are contacted.

NHS 111 is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year online at 111.nhs.uk or by calling 111 for any urgent but not life-threatening medical needs. Trained advisers can direct people to the best possible care for their needs, including arranging an out-of-hours GP appointment or an appointment time to attend A&E or a Minor Injury Unit.