Doctors could be forced to work on strike days under Government plans to introduce minimum safe staffing levels in hospitals.
The Department of Health is launching a consultation on extending recent legislation to cover more healthcare workers as consultants begin a two-day strike today.
Consultants have so far this year held four days of industrial action, while junior doctors have staged 19 days of walkouts.
Junior doctors will start their next three-day strike tomorrow, meaning they will walk out at the same time as consultants for the first time.
Health leaders have expressed concerns about the ‘nightmare scenario’ and revealed some patients are now having operations postponed two or more times due to industrial action, including growing numbers with cancer.
Junior doctors hold placards during a strike, amid a dispute with the government over pay, in London on April 11 (file photo)
File photo dated from January 18 this years, of a general view of staff on a NHS hospital ward
The consultation considers introducing minimum service levels that would cover ‘urgent, emergency and time-critical hospital-based health services’.
It follows a consultation earlier this year on introducing minimum service levels in ambulance services and would bring the UK in line with countries such as France and Italy whose services continue in times of industrial action.
Ministers believe minimum service levels will provide a better balance between supporting the ability of workers to strike with the safety of the public.
A bill for minimum standards for rail and fire and rescue services was passed in July to ensure the sectors still run when there is strike action.
Doctors and nurses were not included, which instead use a system of agreements between local union representatives and hospital bosses to determine minimum levels of working medics during industrial action days.
It is unclear when it will actually come into effect but it is expected to be the start of 2024 at the earliest.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay today was unable to confirm whether the move would be imposed in the next six months, telling Sky News: ‘We haven’t set a timescale.’
Asked if it was an error not to include the medics in the legislation that came into force in July, he said: ‘No, that’s the enabling framework across a number of sectors.’
He argued the move is now necessary to protect ‘time critical’ services, such as chemotherapy, dialysis and the induction of labour.
Mr Barclay argued the measure would be ‘proportionate’ as health unions are resorting to ‘increasing militancy’ and alleged refusing to allow exemptions for some services.
Strikes have so far cost the NHS around £1billion and the number of cancelled appointments and operations is expected to hit one million by the end of this week.
Consultants and junior doctors will walk out together again on October 2, 3 and 4, which coincides with the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
The NHS is expected to see a ‘Christmas Day’ level of staffing when both groups are off, with emergency care as priority.
The Government has given a 6 per cent pay rise to consultants and the same plus a lump sum of £1,250 for junior doctors, and has said there will be no further offers.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: ‘Strikes can’t become the status quo. Only the Government sitting down with the unions can end this disruption.’
Source: Mail Online