The number of appointments, operations and procedures postponed due to strikes in the NHS in England is in “touching distance of one million”, NHS leaders have said.
Some 45,827 inpatient and outpatient hospital appointments in England had to be rescheduled as a result of the industrial action by British Medical Association (BMA) consultants that took place from August 24-26.
A further 1,302 cancellations in mental health, learning disability and community settings were also recorded, though this is likely to include a small amount of double-counting, according to NHS England which published the data.
The number of inpatient and outpatient appointments cancelled in England since the current spell of industrial action began in the NHS in December 2022 now stands at 885,154.
If the community and mental health figures are included, the total rises to more than 940,000 – though this will not reflect the overall number of actual cancellations, due to some duplication of data.
At the same time, not all NHS trusts have been able to supply figures for publication by NHS England, meaning it is impossible to represent the true scale of disruption.
NHS leaders have said that the true impact of strikes is being masked as many hospitals have stopped booking in surgeries and other appointments on future strike days.
Commenting on the figures, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Despite sterling work by health leaders and their teams, this latest round of industrial action has seen the cancellation of 47,129 operations and appointments, taking the total cancelled over the past nine months of strike action to within touching distance of one million.
“This must stop. The NHS cannot be expected to roll with the punches for much longer, and with junior doctors looking to extend their mandate for industrial action, health leaders are seriously worried that we are potentially sleep walking into the NHS’s very own winter of discontent.
“All parties need to work together to end this for the sake of the health service.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said there will be “no more negotiations on pay” as he demanded an end to the “costly and harmful industrial action”.
“Regrettably, hundreds of thousands of NHS patients waiting for vital treatment have suffered the impact of last week’s BMA consultant strikes,” he said, claiming consultants are receiving “significant” pay rises already.
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive at NHS Providers, added: “Trust leaders are alarmed by the snowballing impact of the strikes on patients.
“Nearly one million people across England have now had appointments for hospital, mental health and community care pushed back due to the walkouts since December.
“On top of that, there is the immeasurable impact of all the appointments that couldn’t be booked on the day of a strike itself.
“No one can afford this dispute to continue. Talks between the government and unions must resume.”
NHS England’s national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “Industrial action continues to have a huge impact on the NHS, and on the lives of patients and their families.
“This strike took place into a bank holiday weekend, when NHS activity is generally lighter, but many services have for some time avoided scheduling any planned appointments for strike days in order to prioritise emergencies.
“This means the true impact of this action will be even higher, and as we move into September, the extraordinary cumulative effect of more than nine months of disruption poses a huge challenge for the health service, as staff work tirelessly to tackle the backlog.”
Consultants in England will not back down until the Government agrees to #FixConsultantPay.
Here's what our members on the picket lines had to say this week 👇📢👏 pic.twitter.com/BSBjpvox0D
— BMA Consultants (@BMA_Consultants) August 25, 2023
The Government insisted talks on pay are over after it said consultants would receive a 6% rise.
The BMA said the increase was “insulting” and have claimed that consultants have experienced a “35% pay erosion” over the last 14 years.
Consultants are due to walk out again on September 19 and 20 and October 2,3 and 4.
As with previous consultant walkouts, doctors will still provide “Christmas Day cover” meaning that emergency care will still be provided.
Meanwhile the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee is reballoting members to see whether they want to continue with strike action.
Professor Phil Banfield, chair of council at the BMA, said: “As doctors caring for patients over years of increasingly challenging conditions, the last thing we ever wanted was for patients to experience such disruption. Unfortunately, these figures are a damning indictment of the Government’s intransigence to get around the table and come up with a credible offer that would see these strikes called off.
“As well as the impact on patient care, the amount of money that strikes have cost the NHS – now around £1 billion – shows just what waste this Government is willing to sanction whilst demonstrating how little it values the very doctors so essential to restoring the health and therefore wealth of this country. This is an investment in future generations, but it is portrayed cynically as an unaffordable cost.
“The only way to get elective recovery care back on track and a fully-fledged workforce that can care for patients now and in the years to come is to properly fund the expertise our patients need. Doctors are the solution, not the problem and what happens next rests entirely with the PM and Chancellor. We need to see a credible offer that also aims to restore eroded pay to put an end to these strikes.”