Joint strike action spells double trouble for hospitals
A tidal wave of pressures look set to hit a group of hospitals when a fresh round of strikes get under way this week.
Consultants and junior doctors will come together on Wednesday, sandwiching a joint day of industrial action between separate walkouts.
It’s the first-ever time they have done so, and it will have a major impact on St George’s, Epsom and St Helier hospitals – fresh from a challenging two weeks exacerbated by the heatwave.
It’s prompted calls for members of the public to use NHS services wisely – but to continue to come forward for care when it is an emergency or when they have an appointment.
Dr Richard Jennings, Group Chief Medical Officer for St George’s, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals and Health Group, said: “While we do everything we can to minimise the impact strikes have on our patients, there is no denying this week will be very challenging for us.
“There’s been little respite this year, with several rounds of industrial action already taking place, not to mention our emergency departments becoming busier with the hotter weather. And with further industrial action planned for this autumn, and winter on the way, we would expect these extreme pressures to continue for some time.”
The combined day of strikes will take place on Wednesday 20 September, with the consultants and junior doctors involved providing Christmas Day cover – meaning all emergency care will continue, but appointments for elective surgery and non-emergency work will be rescheduled.
Some consultants will also strike on Tuesday 19 September, again providing Christmas Day cover, while participating junior doctors will stage a full walkout on Thursday 21 September and Friday 22 September.
During this time, members of the public are being urged to use NHS services wisely to ensure care continues to be available for those most in need – and to also remember that going to an emergency department when it’s less urgent doesn’t mean they will be seen more quickly.
Dr Jennings added: “We must prioritise our sickest and most seriously ill patients. That means if you attend our emergency departments and it’s not life-threatening, you may be redirected to a more appropriate service.
“You can help us by using NHS 111 online, which is a 24/7 service and can direct you to where you need to go, when your healthcare need is less urgent. But when it’s an emergency or life-threatening, you should always call 999 or visit an emergency department.”
Thousands of inpatient and outpatient appointments have already been rescheduled due to strike action this year – and more will follow this time round. But people who have appointments are urged to continue to attend these, unless they hear otherwise. Anyone whose appointment needs to be rescheduled will be contacted.
As well as NHS 111 online – which should be the first port of call when it’s less urgent – GP surgeries and pharmacies are also largely unaffected by strikes and can help with illnesses such as tonsillitis, coughs, colds and earaches.
Injuries like sprains and strains can be treated at home – or a pharmacist can advise on the best treatment.
For mental health support in a crisis in Kingston, Merton, Richmond, Sutton or Wandsworth, South West London’s 24/7 Mental Health Crisis Line can be reached on: 0800 028 8000. There’s more information about this service here: https://www.swlstg.nhs.uk/patients-carers/crisis-support/mental-health-support-line
For adults, young people, and children in Surrey and North East Hampshire, 24-hour support is available by calling: 0800 915 4644. There’s more information here: https://www.sabp.nhs.uk/our-services
The dates for strike action are as follows:
Consultants: Christmas Day cover from 7am on Tuesday 19 September to 8am on Thursday 21 September
Junior doctors: Christmas Day cover from 7am on Wednesday 20 September; full walkout from 7am on Thursday 21 September to 7am on Saturday 23 September
Both consultants and junior doctors will be striking Monday 2, Tuesday 3, and Wednesday 4 October, providing Christmas Day cover