‘Serious discussions’ must resume between the Government and doctors to end strike action ahead of winter, NHS England bosses said today.
At this afternoon’s board meeting, NHS England chair Richard Meddings gave the stark warning that winter pressures will be ‘impossible to manage’ if also impacted by strikes.
And chief executive Amanda Pritchard noted talks between the Government and doctors can not resume ‘soon enough’.
Following months of walkouts, consultants and junior doctors have jointly been striking for three full days this week, with ‘Christmas Day’-level cover.
Mr Meddings told the board that it is ‘simply not sustainable to continue to operate with this amount of disruption’.
He said: ‘There’s simply not enough staff on “Christmas Day cover” days to complete the usual tasks while also dealing with business-as-usual levels of demand.
‘It would be impossible to manage this coming into the winter period. But we will continue of course to do all we can to keep caring for patients, putting them first but we urgently need to see a clear path to resolution and for all parties to work together to do the right thing by patients and to find an agreement to this dispute.’
Ms Pritchard said that the focus of NHS England’s discussions with both unions and Government continues to be patient safety.
She added: ‘We all want to see serious discussions resume between unions and Government and with winter approaching that cannot happen soon enough.’
The Department of Health and Social Care declined to comment and pointed Pulse towards a previous statement.
This saw health secretary Steve Barclay urging unions ‘to end their relentless strike action’ and argued that doctors ‘have received a fair and reasonable pay rise – as recommended by the independent pay review body, which we’ve accepted in full’.
However the BMA argued that patient safety is being put at risk due to strike planning failures by NHS England.
BMA council chair Professor Phil Banfield said that the union has always been open to discussing ways to maintain patient safety.
The BMA has also repeatedly asked the Government to return to the negotiating table, with consultants saying this week that they are willing to involve reconciliation service Acas.