Warning of knock-on effect to care after ambulance and nurses strikes as disruption likely to continue

NHS trusts are reporting ongoing delays to ambulance services and overcrowding at A&E

Two days of strike action by nurses, ambulance workers and paramedics will have a knock-on effect on appointments over the coming days, NHS Providers have warned.

Health leaders say there has been “varying levels of disruption” to care across the country after historic strike action saw thousands of nurses walkout on Tuesday, while ambulance staff staged their biggest industrial action in 30 years on Wednesday.

People whose conditions might have worsened because they delayed seeking help are a particular concern, the membership organisation for NHS hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services said.

The number of people phoning 999 appeared to have dropped in some parts of England on Wednesday (21 December) as thousands of ambulance staff and paramedics went on strike, but the organisation said it expects a return to “very high numbers” of emergency calls this week.

It added that demand for care across the whole healthcare system remained high and trust leaders were reporting ongoing delays to ambulance services and overcrowding at some accident and emergency departments.

Disruption to care after strikes this week is likely to continue into the coming days (Photo: PA)Disruption to care after strikes this week is likely to continue into the coming days (Photo: PA)
Disruption to care after strikes this week is likely to continue into the coming days (Photo: PA)

NHS Providers is now appealing for “urgent, serious talks – including on pay” between the government and unions in a bid to avert further industrial action. Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Leaders across the NHS also know that as this week’s strike action draws to a close, the disruption is far from over.

“The fallout from strike action is likely to spill over into the coming days due to the knock-on impact across different parts of the health and care system, the need to reschedule elective and outpatient appointments, and the anticipation of a return to very high numbers of emergency calls. There is particular concern about patients who may have delayed seeking care – and whose conditions have deteriorated – now coming forward for treatment.”

Health leaders urged people to still call for an ambulance if they had a life-threatening emergency, amid fears that even those who needed help would not call. Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), told the PA news agency: “There may be a number of reasons why 999 calls are dropping – hesitancy may be a key factor during the industrial action. We want to reassure patients and the public that if they need emergency care, A&Es remain open.”

NHS England said at least 11,509 staff were absent from work across the country as a result of industrial action by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on Tuesday, while 13,797 appointments and procedures were cancelled and rescheduled.

Members of the military were forced to step in to take the place of ambulance workers on Wednesday, with trusts telling patients to only call 999 in the case of a life-threatening injury.

Government could fast-track NHS pay rise

Meanwhile, the government could fast-track an NHS pay rise next year after 48 hours of historic strikes by nurses and paramedics, reports suggest.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Health Secretary Steve Barclay is poised to offer an expedited pay deal after unions and ministers remained in stalemate over pay negotiations.

The paper said a source close to Mr Barclay – who was criticised by unions for suggesting striking health workers had “made a conscious choice to inflict harm on patients” – revealed he is keen to “speed up the process” to give NHS staff a pay rise early next year to break the deadlock.

Unions have said they expect NHS workers to be offered a 2% increase next year, based on a letter sent by Mr Barclay last month to the NHS Pay Review Body.