Warning over major disruption to NHS services as consultants prepare to walkout in latest strike

Consultant members of the British Medical Association stand on the picket line outside University College London hospital (PA Wire)
Consultant members of the British Medical Association stand on the picket line outside University College London hospital (PA Wire)

NHS leaders have warned of “major disruption” to services in London ahead of a two-day strike by consultants.

Dr Chris Streather, medical director for the NHS in the capital, said Londoners would feel the impact of the walkout “significantly” as thousands of senior doctors in the British Medical Association (BMA) prepared to strike for the second time over pay.

The strike will begin at 7am on Thursday and last until 7am on Saturday. Consultants will still provide “Christmas Day cover”, which means emergency care will be provided.

However, NHS trusts expect to cancel tens of thousands of operations as consultants are the most senior staff working in the NHS - meaning no other clinicians can cover for them. The action comes just nine days after a five-day walkout by junior doctor members of the BMA, with an average of 2,842 staff off in London each day.

The BMA is seeking a pay rise to correct a real terms fall in income since 2008, but the union has not demanded a specific figure.

Dr Vishal Sharma, the BMA consultants committee chairman, said last month that a 12.4 per cent pay increase accepted by junior doctors in Scotland would be enough to call off strikes by consultants in England.

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted that the 6 per cent pay rise offered to NHS doctors is “final” and negotiations will not be reopened.

Speaking ahead of the strike, Dr Streather said: “This planned industrial action comes only ten days after the strike by junior doctors and Londoners will feel its impact significantly.

“The summer is also a period where staff often take annual leave and this, combined with the fact that consultants will stop seeing patients and will also not be able to supervise other medics means major disruption is anticipated. Doctors will only be able to attend to emergency patients.

“Those with life-threatening conditions should always call 999 but we ask Londoners to contact NHS 111 and use their pharmacy and GP practice as a first point of call for non-urgent care.

“If you haven’t been contacted or informed that your planned appointment has been postponed, please attend as normal.”

NHS trusts have raised concerns over the timing of the strike - just before the bank holiday weekend - which could put many services out of action for five days.

Dr Richard Jennings, Chief Medical Officer for St George’s, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals and Health Group, said: “Summer is traditionally less busy for the NHS, but that certainly hasn’t been the case this year. Industrial action and periods of increased demand – including our busiest day ever in our emergency departments – have meant we’ve faced significant pressures.

“That looks set to continue this week and into the weekend, so once again we’re asking for your support. If you need medical help, please consider whether our emergency departments are the best place for you to be, or if it’s more appropriate for you to seek treatment elsewhere.”

More than 839,000 appointments and procedures have been cancelled since industrial action began in the NHS last December.

If the community and mental health figures are included, the total rises to nearly 900,000 - though this will not reflect the overall number of actual cancellations, due to some duplication of data.

A record 7.6 million Britons are currently on a waiting list for NHS treatment, a figure that ministers have admitted could surpass 8 million next year.

Consultants on a 2003 contract earn a starting salary of £88,364 in basic pay, rising to £119,133 after around 19 years, according to the BMA.

The Department of Health and Social Care said that on average, consultants have additional earnings worth around 31 per cent of basic pay, covering “additional programmed activities”, clinical excellence awards and on-call payments, which take total average NHS earnings for 2022/23 to around £127,000.