NHS facing further strike disruption amid ongoing winter demand

The NHS is facing further strike disruption this week amid continued high demand for services, as its top doctor warns more than one in 10 days have been impacted by strike action in the past year.

Strike action by junior doctors will run from 7am on Saturday (24 February) to midnight on Wednesday (28 February) and is set to impact most routine care as the NHS prioritises urgent and emergency services.

By the end of this action, hospital doctors will have taken 44 days or 1,056 hours of industrial action, equating to around 12% of the year.

The analysis comes as weekly figures released today show there were an average of 2,355 more patients in hospital each day last week (97,416) than the same period in 2023 (95,061).

Despite the NHS having over 2,500 more general and acute beds compared to same week last year (103,597 versus 101,067) – including 100,018 core beds – bed occupancy remains high, with 95.3% of adult general and acute beds occupied in the week ending 18 February.

There were almost four times as many flu patients in hospital every day last week (2,208) than in the same week last year (638), and up from 1,582 a month ago.

Other winter viruses also continue to cause concern, with an average of 509 patients in hospital with norovirus and 2,720 patients with Covid-19 in hospital each day last week.

The data shows NHS staff continue to contend with high demand for urgent and emergency care, with 89,377 ambulance handovers to hospitals last week, up 12% from 79,752 in the same week last year.

NHS call handlers also answered 369,030 calls to 111, up 10% from the 336,656 answered in the same week last year. Despite the higher volume answered, 59.5% of calls were answered within 60 seconds last week, compared with 44.9% in the same week last year.

Each day last week an average 13,624 beds were being taken up by patients who were medically fit for discharge because of delays sending people home or to other settings like social and community care.

The NHS has been preparing extensively for winter, with robust measures in place to manage demand – including more beds, new ambulances, and expanding measures such as care traffic control centres, virtual wards, urgent community response teams and same day emergency care.

Alongside dealing with ongoing winter pressures, staff have also been working hard this week to mitigate the impact of strike action due to run from Saturday to Wednesday, with trusts putting in place measures to maintain care for those who need it urgently, and rescheduling planned appointments which are now unable to go ahead.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “It’s not possible to have 1 in every 10 days affected by strikes for over a year without it having a huge impact on services, patients, their families, and staff.

“Coupled with today’s figures which show bed capacity is constrained, with more patients in hospital than this time last year – and thousands of patients in hospital with flu, norovirus and Covid-19 – alongside ongoing demand for urgent and emergency care, the enormous challenge faced by the NHS is clear.

“Colleagues across the country have worked incredibly hard to ensure urgent and life-saving care has continued during more than a year of strike action, while also delivering progress on our recovery plans, but the NHS is under huge strain trying to mitigate the impact of these latest strikes during one of the most difficult times of the year.

“It remains vital that people who need care come forward and get it in the usual way – using 999 and A&E in life-threatening emergencies and 111 for everything else.”

The previous round of industrial action by junior doctors in January this year saw over 113,000 hospital appointments disrupted and at least 23,000 staff absent day on weekdays. In total, strikes have now impacted over 1.3 million hospital appointments across the NHS.

Junior doctors make up around half of all doctors in the NHS and have anywhere up to eight years’ experience working as a hospital doctor, depending on their specialty, or up to three years in general practice.

The NHS is advising the public to use 111 online as the first port of call for urgent but not life-threatening issues during industrial action so that they can be directed to the best place for their needs. Patients who need medical care should continue to use 999 or come forward to A&E as normal.

Patients who haven’t been contacted to say their appointment has been cancelled should also attend as normal.

The weekly sitrep data can be found on our website here.