NHS leaders warn people to avoid 'risky behaviour' during junior doctors' strike

NHS leaders are warning people to avoid "risky behaviour" over the next week due to upcoming junior doctors strikes, ITV News' Martha Fairlie reports

People have been warned people to avoid "risky behaviour" in order to stay clear of A&E during this week's junior doctors' strikes as the NHS is set for "immense pressures".

NHS staff are to prioritise care for people in life threatening situations, as junior doctors stage “the most disruptive" strike in the health service's history.

Over four days, junior doctors will walk out, meaning up to a quarter of a million appointments and operations could be postponed, according to the NHS Confederation.

The strikes will come immediately after the Easter bank holiday weekend and will run from 7am on Tuesday until the morning of Saturday April 15.

On the eve of what is set to be the most disruptive walkout in the health service's history, NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor urged people to avoid "risky behaviour" this week to avoid injury.

Striking NHS junior doctors on the picket line outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham in March. Credit: Jacob King/PA

"If you have a worry, then there is 111, there's the NHS website, there's your GP, don't go to A&E unless you really need to," he added.

NHS England said appointments and operations will only be cancelled “where unavoidable” and patients will be offered alternative dates as soon as possible. However, many patients could still end up paying a price.

In February, ITV News reported how 16-year-old Reece McIntyre was bed bound and in constant agony after his spinal surgery was cancelled three times due to a lack of theatre space or beds.

"My mental health is getting worse, I'm getting panic attacks at school a lot, very often, and it's very hard," said the teenager, who has cerebral palsy and scoliosis.

His mother, Michelle Hughes, said she feared further disruption caused by strike action would only prolong her son's pain.

She told ITV News: "I get the reason why they want to strike, but there's got to be a different way. They sleep at night, he can't - it's just not fair."

NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis has warned of the impact of the forthcoming junior doctors’ strikes Credit: Leon Neal/PA

But junior doctors have said striking is a last resort, as they wait for the government to come to them with a serious pay offer.

"We can only apologise to patients whose care will be disrupted, but over the long term what we've seen is, year upon year, things getting worse and worse.

"And we know that it's only going to go in one direction if we don't take a stand like this."

NHS England national medical director Sir Stephen Powis said: “The NHS has been preparing extensively for the next set of strikes.

"But managing additional pressure doesn’t get easier as time goes by – it gets much more difficult.

"Not only due to the sheer number of appointments that need to be rescheduled, but also that they can take time to rearrange with multiple teams involved.

Junior doctors will be returning to the picket line next week. Credit: PA

“This is set to be the most disruptive industrial action in NHS history, and the strikes tomorrow will bring immense pressures, coming on the back of a challenged extended bank holiday weekend for staff and services.

“Emergency, urgent and critical care will be prioritised but some patients will unfortunately have had their appointments postponed – if you haven’t, please do continue to come forward.”

In an op-ed for the Sunday Telegraph, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the decision from BMA leaders to maintain an “unrealistic position” for a 35% pay increase demand has halted any progress with talks between the two parties.

“This demand is widely out of step with pay settlements in other parts of the public sector at a time of considerable economic pressure on our country. A salary hike of this size would see some junior doctors receiving more than an extra £20,000 a year,” he said.

“I recognise their hard work and dedication. But it is deeply disappointing that this industrial action has been timed by the British Medical Association (BMA) Junior Doctors Committee to cause maximum disruption to both patients and other NHS staff.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay. Credit: Steve Parsons/PA

Mr Barclay said he remains “determined” to find a fair offer that benefits junior doctors, but also halves inflation.

Junior doctors make up around half of all doctors in the NHS according to NHS England.

They are qualified doctors who have up to eight years’ experience working as a hospital doctor, depending on their speciality, or up to three years in general practice.

The health service said people must still access the care they need in the usual way, only using 999 and A&E in life-threatening emergencies and using NHS 111 online and other services for non-urgent health needs.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.