The NHS is pulling out all the stops to minimise the risks to the quality and safety of care during this week’s strike, NHS England has said.
NHS England asked all trust boards across the country to provide assurance that they have adequate plans in place to manage the impact of the strike, focussing on essential services – emergency care, maternity, resuscitation teams, mental health crisis intervention teams and major incident plans.
All trusts have reported that they have put plans in place to provide these essential services during the period of the action, although services may be staffed differently and there may be delays or other changes.
However, NHS England stresses that this is an unprecedented situation during a time of heightened risk.
The extra challenges caused by the escalation of the action have also led to significantly more postponed elective operations during this strike.
Trusts have reported that they expect there will be 12, 711 postponed elective operations over the period of 18 April to 2 May – 4187 relating to inpatient cases and 8, 524 day cases.
They have also reported that there have been 112,856 postponed outpatient appointments over the same period.
The upcoming action – including the withdrawal of emergency care – is unprecedented in the history of the NHS and planning efforts have been stepped up across the country to ensure essential services are maintained and disruption minimised as far as possible.
Arrangements for recalling doctors from the picket line in an emergency are in place as they have been for previous strikes.
NHS England has also ensured other parts of the health service are supporting hospitals and patients during this busy time with extra resources provided to address local pressures. As a result:
- There will be extra primary care and GP response/appointment availability during the strike. Individual practices will decide what additional resource is made available. People are advised to check on NHS Choices website to see what local services are available.
- NHS 111 has increased clinical call handling capacity
- NHS ambulance trusts have been asked to consider what extra support they can offer, including providing temporary treatment centre facilities where appropriate.
- Additional steps have been taken to support discharges from hospitals as well as extended liaison with social services/care homes, both in advance of the action and in the evenings on the days action is taking place.
Dr Anne Rainsberry, National Incident Director for NHS England, said: “The NHS exists to care for and treat patients and it is with enormous regret that we find patients put in this position.
“We have focussed our efforts on essential services including emergency care but the effects of this action will be felt far and wide with thousands of people having their operations postponed and their care disrupted for which we sincerely apologise.
“NHS organisations have tried and tested plans to deal with a range of disruptions to seek to ensure continued safe services for patients, which is always our top priority. The NHS has been pulling out all the stops to minimise the risks to the quality and safety of care but this is an unprecedented situation during a time of heightened risk.
“In some places the NHS may be under specific pressure. We want people to plan so they know what to do if they need medical care during the course of this industrial action. The NHS is open for business but we ask the public to use it wisely in this very challenging time as some services may change and some may be busier than usual”.
NHS England has issued further advice to the public ahead of the strike. A dedicated webpage has been set up on the NHS Choices website to provide information about the strike. The webpage is now live with additional local information available from next week.
The NHS is working hard to ensure that as few patients as possible are affected by the industrial action. However some services will need to change and some are likely to be busier than usual. People can help the NHS cope by choosing the right service and attending A&E only if it is essential.
The webpage also includes specific advice on how people can be prepared for the action, particularly if they have a long-term health condition or look after someone else. This includes signposting a range of other services people can turn to as well as advice on making sure people can get their regular medication and knowing who to contact if you are pregnant.
If you have a planned operation, procedure or outpatient appointment on a day when industrial action is taking place, your hospital will contact you if the appointment needs to be rearranged. If you have not been contacted by the hospital, you should check their website for additional advice. If you are still unsure what to do, contact the hospital direct.
GPs will be open as usual but may be busier than normal and there is also advice on when to use A&E. As is always the case, only those adults and children with genuine emergency needs should go to A&E. Further advice is also offered on alternatives to A&E, particularly for minor injuries or illnesses.