Life-critical care a priority for the NHS as strike action disrupts services over the bank holiday

The NHS will prioritise urgent and emergency care again this bank holiday weekend, and is urging the public to use services wisely as industrial action enters its sixth month.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has announced strike action, starting on Sunday at 8pm and finishing on Monday at midnight. Following the recent junior doctors strike which saw 195,000 appointments rescheduled, and with the number of rescheduled appointments set to hit half a million next week, the NHS is again facing significant disruption during the already stretched bank holiday weekend.

Nursing is the largest percentage of the NHS workforce – making up a quarter of NHS staff, and currently no national exemptions for services have been agreed.

However, the NHS and RCN are seeking to agree mitigations on an organisation by organisation basis if there is a critical risk to patient safety.

This latest action will involve nursing staff working in emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other services. Staffing levels for some areas of the country will be exceptionally low, lower than on previous strike days. To ensure safe care continues to be available for those in life-threatening situations, NHS staff will prioritise emergency and urgent care over some routine appointments and procedures and patients will see longer waits for care during strikes.

Appointments and operations will only be cancelled where unavoidable and patients will be offered an alternative date as soon as possible. People who need care must still access the care they need in the usual way – only using 999 and A&E in life-threatening emergencies and using NHS 111 online and other services for non-urgent health needs. Pharmacies and GPs are largely unaffected by the strikes so patients can still get appointments and health advice.

Deputy Chief Nurse Charlotte McArdle said: “As with previous industrial action, NHS staff have been working extremely hard to prepare for and mitigate disruption and we are prioritising urgent and emergency care, but there is likely to be significant impact upon local services over the bank holiday weekend.

“We are now entering the sixth month of industrial action across the NHS and this has a cumulative impact on staff who have gone above and beyond to maintain safe patient services during an incredibly challenging period. We acknowledge that every appointment postponed has an impact on the lives of individuals and their families and creates further pressure on services and on an already tired workforce.

“If you need non-urgent care I would encourage people – as always – to use services such as pharmacies and 111 online and if you have a life-threatening emergency, please seek help in the usual way by dialing 999.

“Importantly, if you haven’t been contacted to say otherwise, please still attend your appointments as planned”.