The NHS has indicated facing a challenging start to the new year due to escalating winter pressures and a historic surge in junior doctors’ strike action.
This week, junior doctors will embark on the longest consecutive strike in NHS history, beginning at 7 am today and lasting until 7 am on 9 January.
This industrial action is expected to impact routine care, with consultants prioritising urgent and emergency cases.
The walk-outs coincide with the winter period, already placing substantial pressure on the NHS due to seasonal illnesses, including Covid-19 and flu.
Following the festive season, where social interactions increase, there is an added risk of infection spread.
Recent data reveals a substantial spike in flu-related hospitalisations, reaching an average of 942 cases daily last week—about six times the previous week’s figures.
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In anticipation of the demanding winter period, the NHS has undertaken preparations, implementing measures such as increasing bed capacity, and deploying additional ambulances.
Besides, it has established 24/7 system control centres nationwide to manage heightened pressure.
Recently, Junior doctors took three days of action before Christmas, resulting in the postponement of thousands of appointments.
NHS national medical director Stephen Powis said: “This January could be one of the most difficult starts to the year the NHS has ever faced.
“Six consecutive days of industrial action comes at one of our busiest periods – the action will not only have an enormous impact on planned care, but comes on top of a host of seasonal pressures such as covid, flu, and staff absences due to sickness – all of which is impacting on how patients flow through hospitals.
“Our colleagues across the health service are doing their very best for patients every day with extensive preparations in place, but there’s no doubt they are starting 2024 on the back foot – not only will action impact next week, it will continue to have a serious impact in the weeks after, as we recover services and deal with additional demand.
“However, I cannot stress enough that people who need care must come forward as they usually would – using 999 and A&E in life threatening emergencies and 111 online for everything else.”
Routine healthcare services, including GP appointments and local pharmacies, remain available for the public.