Emergency care will be placed under great pressure during forthcoming extended period of industrial action

As junior doctors across the east of England prepare to join an extended period of industrial action next week, the NHS is asking everyone to carefully consider the use of services during this time to help reduce the pressure on emergency care.

With around 61,000 junior doctors making up about half of the medical workforce across England, the action planned to take place between 7am on Tuesday 11 April and just before 7am on Saturday 15 April, is expected to see some of the most severe NHS service disruption to date, having a huge impact on elective and emergency care.

With members of the public being asked to choose health services wisely during this time, the NHS can prioritise resources to protect emergency treatment, critical care, neonatal care, maternity and trauma, and prioritise patients who have waited the longest for elective care and cancer surgery.

Forthcoming strike action is set against the context of last month’s three days of action by junior doctors which saw around 28,000 staff take part. Over three days this meant 175,000 hospital appointments were disrupted across the country.

The strike action beginning on 11 April will be for a longer period and comes at a time of year when high levels of staff often take annual leave due to the Easter holiday.

Dr Edward Morris, Regional Medical Director for the NHS in the East of England said:

“There has been a consistent level of intense pressure on hospitals and the wider health systems in recent months, and we begin to leave the busiest winter period in the history of the NHS.

“Due to the timing of this forthcoming action coming out of a long bank holiday weekend, we believe the impact on services and care provision has the potential to be much more significant than previous industrial action and we are urging members of the public to consider how they can stay safe during this time.

“Regardless of any strike action taking place, it is really important that patients who need urgent medical care continue to come forward as normal, especially in emergency and life-threatening situations as the NHS is here to help those who need such care.

“We can only do this with the support and understanding of our communities, if we continue to look out for friends and family and select the alternative help and advice that is available if the situation is not extremely urgent or life-threatening.

“Unfortunately, a high number of appointments and procedures are likely to be cancelled where it is necessary, but these will be rescheduled as quickly as possible. If you have not been told otherwise, you should attend your appointment as planned as any affected patients will be contacted by their local hospital or health provider.”

The role of the junior doctor is an incredibly important part of the effective running of any hospital. They perform a wide array of day-to-day roles and tasks to ensure patients receive care and treatment and in the majority of cases, the first doctor anyone will see when they go into hospital will be a junior doctor.

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

Their roles include reviewing the progress and care of sick patients, they can request and check tests including blood, x-rays and explorative use of cameras and also support the timely discharge of patients.

During the period of industrial action, patients should only call 999 if it is a medical or mental health emergency. During strike days, it is likely 999 call handlers will be very busy. NHS 111 call centres may also have fewer staff, with longer call response times expected across the system. The fastest source of information for anyone with non-urgent care needs is NHS 111 online.