Repeated strikes by health staff are making workloads “more challenging”, NHS England's chief executive has admitted.
The NHS is bracing for its biggest industrial action ever next month, with thousands of nurses across England going on strike on Wednesday and Thursday this week and around 1,000 ambulance workers in Wales also walking out on Thursday.
It's expected thousands of operations and appointments will need to be cancelled over the next few months, but NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard has hope the industrial action could be resolved.
“As the strike action is extended over long periods of time, and as those dates start coming closer together, it does get more challenging, there is absolutely no doubt,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
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“It is clearly having an impact. I think that’s obvious.”
She added: “My sense is that everybody is looking to try and reach a resolution.”
Health leaders have warned that emergency services are facing “alarming levels of stress” and that more hospital beds were “desperately needed”.
Delayed discharge is one of a number of pressures the NHS is facing this winter, along with bed shortages, a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections, the worst flu season for a decade and ongoing strikes.
February 6 is likely to see the biggest strike action the NHS has ever experienced after the Unite union announced fresh ambulance worker walkouts.
Thousands of nurses from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) were already scheduled to strike on February 6 and 7, and the GMB union announced earlier this week that its ambulance workers would join them on February 6.
On Friday morning, Unite said workers from five ambulance trusts in England and Wales would also join the strike on February 6.
Downing Street insisted that the Government was still open to facilitating talks with trade unions, while admitting that the planned walkout would cause further “disruption” for patients.
Speaking to broadcasters during a hospital visit earlier this week, Health Secretary Steve Barclay appeared to rule out a 10% pay rise for nurses, insisting it was “not affordable”.
“Well 10% is not affordable, it would be an extra £3.6 billion a year and obviously that would take money away from patient services, essential services that we need to invest in given the backlogs from the pandemic,” he said.
“Now, within government we take a whole government approach – of course I have discussions with the Treasury, as do other Secretaries of State, and these things need to be balanced not just with the needs of teachers, with the Education Secretary, or train drivers with the Transport Secretary, but also what’s affordable for your viewers in terms of their own cost-of-living pressures.”
He insisted he was working “constructively” with unions but said he was “disappointed” in the strikes.