NHS Confederation responds to data on impact of junior doctor strikes

Matthew Taylor responds to the publication of data showing over 181,000 procedures and operations had to be postponed due to junior doctor strikes.

17 March 2023

Responding to the publication of statistics by NHS England detailing the impact of industrial action by junior doctors Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:

“NHS leaders have been warning that the junior doctors strike would have the biggest impact on cancelled operations and appointments, but these figures show it has been more disruptive than all the other strikes combined. With over 181,000 appointments and operations postponed, the impact has been huge and must prompt the government and BMA to get back round the table to bring an end to the dispute. 

“While overall, the NHS has coped well there is no hiding from the fact that services have been severely stretched, and leaders are renewing their calls for both sides to reach compromise, and halt the ongoing detrimental impact industrial action is having on patients without delay.   

“Over the last three days, demand seems to have been higher than expected, particularly in Emergency Departments with one reporting that they averaged one patient arrival every four minutes. Many leaders have expressed concerns around the impact that consultants taking time off in lieu after providing cover might have in the weeks ahead, and so will be grateful to welcome back a very important part of the workforce.

“Leaders are pleased to see an agreement reached between the government and agenda for change unions on a pay offer and are hopeful that a similar resolution can be found with the BMA, and talk of imminent discussions is positive.     

“However, there is an elephant in the room here, and that is how these pay increases will be funded. While the government has guaranteed that there will be no impact on frontline services or the quality of care that patients receive as a result of this pay offer, unless new money is made available it is very hard to see how this won’t be the case in practice, the maths just does not add up.   

“Try as it might, an already very squeezed system will be unable to find much more in the way of efficiency savings, and leaders will be very concerned by the thought of having to make further cuts to services to honour a government commitment to a staff pay increase above what has been budgeted for. We cannot be put in a situation where leaders are unable to recruit more staff because they are having to pay more to the staff already employed from existing budget.   

“The government must clarify where the funding is to come from as a matter of urgency. 

“In the meantime, healthcare leaders await the publication of a long anticipated, fully funded workforce plan, something which cannot come soon enough when the NHS continues to be dogged by 124,000 vacancies.  

“Leaders will continue to do all they can to find ways to keep the staff we currently do have where they belong, providing high quality care for patients, but the health service is in desperate need of a sustainable long-term credible proposal to boost both the vital retention and recruitment of health care staff.”