Today nurses are striking for the second time in less than a week – just 24 hours before ambulance workers go on strike, with more on the way.
The difficult period is made more challenging because industrial action is taking place in winter, which is always the hardest time of the year for the NHS. This year, seasonal pressures are being intensified by a waiting list of over 7 million, chronic staff shortages and too few beds to meet demand. To make matters worse, flu cases are also surging, COVID-19 pressures remain and hospitals are literally crumbling due to a lack of investment.
Patients are already feeling the impact of strike action, which will unfold over the coming weeks and possibly months. After the first day of nurses strikes last week, we had varied reports from trust leaders across the country. There were some real pressure points around certain emergency departments. Anecdotally, we heard around 40 to 60% of routine operations were cancelled in places where strikes were held.
Trust leaders know this may cause huge disruption and are doing all they can to ensure patients can still get the care they need, when they need it. If a situation is not life-threatening, alternative support will be available through the NHS 111 helpline or online service. Patients are advised to arrange alternative transport if they need to get to A&E.
We understand why NHS staff have got to this point: below-inflation pay awards amid the rising cost of living have been something of a final straw in the face of severe, chronic staff shortages and ever-increasing workloads. For trust leaders, there is only one way to make positive progress: the government and unions must get around the table urgently, in good faith, to discuss pay. Failure to do so will prolong disruption. Nobody wants that.
This opinion piece was first published by the Daily Express.