Almost 340,000 appointments and operations cancelled in London as junior doctors strike begins

Image above: Junior doctors striking in October 2023 outside Charing Cross Hospital; library image

“We are expecting a challenging few days”, says Imperial College Healthcare Trust

Junior doctors on Wednesday began the longest strike in NHS history as figures revealed that more than 337,000 appointments and operations had been cancelled in London due to industrial action.

NHS leaders warned that the health service was facing its “toughest challenge yet” as thousands of medics in the British Medical Association began a six-day walkout over pay at 7am.

Imperial College Healthcare Trust, which runs Charing Cross Hospital, said in a statement that the junior doctor’s strike will have “significant impact” on the hospitals it runs.

“The junior doctors’ strike will have a significant impact on our hospitals. Our priority, as with all industrial action, will be to ensure everyone’s safety. We will continue to run urgent and emergency services throughout the strike, including our A&E departments and maternity units.

“But we will need to reschedule most of the planned operations and outpatient appointments that are currently booked for this period. If we need to reschedule your appointment, including if we need to change it to a virtual appointment, we will contact you directly as soon as possible to tell you. We will arrange a new appointment as soon as we can.

“We are expecting a challenging few days, with increased pressure on our emergency departments. We encourage anyone who needs non-emergency medical help or advice to go to NHS 111 online. If you need emergency care (for instance if someone is seriously ill, injured or their life is at risk), you should continue to call 999.”

The strike will affect almost all routine services as the NHS shifts its focus to urgent and emergency care. Hospitals are also grappling with a surge in flu, norovirus and Covid cases.

The strike will end at 7am on Tuesday 9 January.

Image above: Charing Cross Hospital

Talks break down between Government and BMA 

The strike comes after talks between Health Secretary Victoria Atkins and the British Medical Association broke down last month, with the Government insisting that negotiations could not resume unless the union called off strike action.

Analysis by The Evening Standard found that more than 337,000 inpatient and outpatient appointments had been rescheduled in London across a year of industrial action in the NHS.

It is by far the highest figure of any region in England and accounts for more than a quarter (27.8%) of the 1.2 million operations and procedures cancelled nationally.

An NHS source said that the high rate of cancellations in London could reflect that a higher proportion of doctors in the capital were on strike compared with other regions.

The BMA is seeking a 35% pay rise to correct a real-terms fall in income since 2008, but ministers have branded the demand “unaffordable”.

In summer 2023, the Government gave junior doctors in England an average rise of 8.8%, but medics said the increase was not enough and ramped up strike efforts. Calculations by the British Medical Association show that pay awards for junior doctors in England from 2008/09 to 2021/22 have delivered a real terms pay cut of 26.1%, even accounting for total investment secured through the multi-year pay deal agreed in 2019.

Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairmen of the BMA junior doctors committee, said:

“This strike marks another unhappy record for the NHS – the longest single walkout in its history – but there is no need for any records to fall: we can call off this strike now if we get an offer from Government that we can put to members.”

Ms Atkins said the strikes would have a “serious impact” on patients and urged the BMA to call off the strikes and return to negotiations.