Patients urged to seek life-saving care during busiest strike period on record

The NHS is urging the public to continue to call 999 in a life-threatening emergency and go to NHS 111 online for non-urgent needs as the health service experiences record levels of industrial action.

The biggest industrial action in the history of the NHS this week has left the health service with less time to recover between strikes. Latest figures showed that 41,425 hospital appointments were rescheduled following action on Monday and Tuesday.

Ambulance workers will strike again today (Friday), following previous action on Monday. Nurses at 73 trusts in England also took action on Monday and Tuesday, and physiotherapists yesterday (Thursday).

England’s top doctor has reiterated calls for patients to use services wisely by continuing to call 999 in a life-threatening emergency and going to NHS 111 online for all non-urgent health needs. Patients are also urged to continue to attend planned appointments unless otherwise contacted by the NHS.

NHS Medical Director Sir Stephen Powis said: “NHS staff have made incredible efforts to keep critical services running as best they can, but the reality is that today’s strike comes at the end of the biggest industrial action in the history of the NHS, and there has been little time to recover between strikes.

“We are incredibly grateful to the public for their care in how they use the health service during strike days, but we are seeing demand rising compared with previous days of industrial action. Disruption is inevitable, however it is vital that people do not put off seeking care and dial 999 in a life-threatening emergency and come forward for treatment using 111 online for non-life threatening care, as well as using local pharmacies or General Practice.

“Anyone with an appointment should continue to attend as planned unless they have been contacted to rearrange.”

The NHS has been preparing extensively for industrial action and for winter, with plans already in place to manage additional demand including 24/7 control centres, additional bed capacity, more mental health support for ambulance services and more community falls services.

In December, the NHS launched the latest phase of a TV campaign encouraging the public to use NHS 111 online.

After entering answers about health needs online, the service makes an assessment and directs you to the best place for your care – this can include a consultation with a pharmacist, a call back from a nurse, or visiting a same day urgent treatment centre or A&E.

NHS England and local NHS areas have plans in place to ensure life-saving care continues and to minimise disruption to patient care.

In November NHS England issued guidance to local NHS employers on what derogations they should seek from local union representatives to ensure certain vital services such as chemotherapy continue.