Hospital bosses warn of 'intense pressure' ahead of Easter weekend and strikes

Credit: PA

NHS bosses have warned of "intense pressure" and patient care "resting on a knife edge" ahead of a busy Easter weekend.

Patient demand often spikes over the break and officials are also concerned about covering striking junior doctors next week.

Dr Amanda Webb, Chief Medical Officer of the Bath, North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Integrated Care Board, urged patients to help reduce the demand for emergency services.

She said: “The actions of the public, even those which may seem small, can collectively make a big difference to the NHS during these periods of high demand and intense pressure.

"The support we’re calling for will help our already-stretched frontline teams to continue to provide essential care and treatment for those most in need before, during and after Easter."

Last Easter there were over 70,000 more calls to NHS 111 from Good Friday to Easter Sunday compared with the previous Friday to Sunday – a 37% increase.

Leaders at the NHS Confederation said they are working at “full pelt” to make sure emergency and other life-saving care can continue safely during a four-day walkout by junior doctors in England from Tuesday.

But they warned that “huge uncertainty“ remains over the level of cover they will be able to secure in time from other professionals to fill key shifts.

Even providing “basic patient safety” is a worry for some, said the NHS Confederation.

It called for an urgent resolution to the pay dispute between the junior doctors’ trade unions and the government.

The last junior doctors’ strikes in March saw thousands of consultants provide cover, but health leaders do not expect a repeat performance as many consultants either have annual leave booked due to the holidays or are more reluctant to put themselves forward.

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One hospital leader said that “where consultants covered last time, they have built time in lieu. Additionally the next strike falls over Easter, when a lot of consultants had booked annual leave. This is all impacting on elective waiting lists.”

Health leaders say they are having to plan for the worst to protect patient safety, including by cancelling more appointments and elective procedures than they would like to, so that they can keep hospital bed occupancy levels, currently standing at over 95%, as low as they can and support staff working next week to focus on urgent and emergency care services.

One hospital leader told the NHS Confederation that they are facing a “catastrophic risk” with the escalated strike action and that while it will officially last for four days, its impact will be felt over 11 days due to reduced cover during the preceding Easter weekend and then during the weekend that will follow the end of the strike.

They said they have never worried more about the impact a strike could have on patients than this one.

A three-day walk-out last month saw more than 175,000 appointments and procedures having to be postponed.

Based on this, the figure from next week’s strikes could be as high as a quarter of a million.

The four days of strikes will come immediately after the four-day Easter bank holiday weekend. They will run from 6.59am on Tuesday 11 April until 6.59am on Saturday 15 April.