- By Nick Trickle
- Health Correspondent
The British Medical Association (BMA) has said it is prepared to end its six-day walkout in England if the government makes a “credible” concession.
Junior doctors went on strike at 07:00 GMT on Wednesday in a dispute over pay that would be the longest strike in the history of the NHS.
PMA Junior Doctor President Dr Vivek Trivedi said he would return to talks if the government offered a fresh offer.
Ministers say they are not ready to negotiate while the strike is ongoing.
In an interview with the BBC, Dr Trivedi said: “Anybody from the government can still come to us today and if we think the offer is credible, if we can restart negotiations and build on that, we can call off our strike. All week.”
The BMA – which represents doctors in the UK – said that while it was asking for a 35% pay rise, it was not necessary to get it all at once.
“We're not saying it has to happen in a year.
“We're very happy to see the details that have been there for years — but what we need to do is start a path toward that, and not that wage erosion.”
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said junior doctors must call off their strike before preparing to return to the negotiating table.
He said he wanted to find a fair and just solution to end the strikes once and for all.
Junior doctors received an average pay rise of 9% this financial year – and during negotiations at the end of last year, the option of an additional 3% on top of that was mooted.
But those talks ended in early December without reaching an agreement.
Routine hospital services, such as hip and knee replacement surgeries and check-ups, will be severely affected in the coming days.
This is because senior doctors are drafted in to provide cover in emergency care.
But not enough in some places.
A number of NHS trusts reported significant waits in A&E, with some reporting a critical incident, meaning employers are concerned they will not be able to provide critical services to patients.
In Nottinghamshire, the whole Nottingham and Nottinghamshire NHS system reported a critical incident at 16:30 GMT.
Cheltenham A&E was closed as patients were diverted, Bolton NHS Foundation Trust said it was facing “excessive pressure” with waiting times at A&E of “up to 11 hours”, Warwick Hospital warned it was “under pressure”, Airedale Hospital said. Its emergency department was “exceptionally busy”.
Health officers in East Sussex, South Tees, Gateshead, Greater Manchester, Berkshire, Rotherham and Harlow in Essex also reported being “busy”.
'It's very tiring to cover this 24/7'
By Health Editor Hugh Pym
I spent Wednesday at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH). A central London hospital believes almost half of its junior doctors will strike this week based on past walkouts.
David Probert, chief executive of UCLH, said the “vast majority” of routine appointments had to be canceled as senior doctors were moved to provide cover in emergency care.
The strike coincides with an increase in other pressures, meaning doctors here have to help other hospitals in north London, which are struggling with rising patient numbers and ambulance arrivals.
Dr. Ben Lovell, an acute medical consultant, told me that the emergency department was very busy on the first day of the strike.
“Every bed you see here has a patient,” Dr. Lovell said. “They're waiting to go to an inpatient bed in the hospital, but they don't have a bed to go to. We always say the emergency department should have elastic walls because we can't turn off the faucet at the front door. — They're coming in.”
He said that while he supported the junior doctors' action, he expected to work 70 hours during the six-day strike, covering those not in the emergency department.
“It's exhausting doing this 24/7 cover, and I can't do it more than the six days we're going to do now. I enjoy my job, but it's going to be busy, it's going to happen. Be tough, I'm going to be really tired after the sixth day.”
Dominika Hacia, whose job it is to tell patients their procedures have been cancelled, told me it was difficult to break the news to people.
“They're in pain, too, so I understand that they can be aggressive. Even if I try to calm them down, I try to find a new date, try to work things out. That's what we're aiming for.”
NHS bosses have always warned that the walkout – the ninth of junior doctors – would be tough.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England's medical director, said rising rates of respiratory illnesses such as Covid and flu, and illness among staff, made the walkout “extremely challenging”, making it one of the health service's busiest times.
There is particular concern among NHS employers about some urgent areas of maternity services, such as cancer care and emergency caesareans.
An appeal by NHS employers representing hospitals seeking a strike exemption for emergency cases in these areas was rejected by the BMA.
NHS England advises patients in a life-threatening emergency to call 999 as usual, but use 111 for everything else.
Patients with regular appointments should attend as usual unless otherwise instructed.
Some disruption to GP services is also expected.
Paul Farmer of Age UK said the timing of the strikes was particularly “alarming”.
“We are deeply concerned about the risk this poses to the health of older people – making it difficult to guarantee safe and effective care for everyone who needs it.”
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