Several NHS trusts declare critical incidents as junior doctors continue strike

Striking junior doctors have been urged to come back to work by several NHS trusts, many hospitals have also declared critical incidents, as Chloe Keedy reports

Several NHS trusts have now declared critical incidents as junior doctors begin their second day of a historic six-day walkout, the longest the NHS has ever seen.

On Thursday, the prime minister called on junior doctors to end their strike amid severe pressure on health services.

He told broadcasters that he urges striking staff to "bring an end to this disruption and the impact it is having on more people up and down the country."

On the first day of the strike, more than a dozen hospitals said emergency services were “busy” and Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth said its A&E department was “full” as it declared a critical incident.

A critical incident was also declared by NHS Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care Board due to “significant pressures on services”.

Other hospitals reported “extreme heightened pressure” and being “exceptionally busy”, with one citing A&E waits of “up to 11 hours”.

'It's only the junior doctors who are now on strike and I would urge them to get round the table,' Rishi Sunak told broadcasters on Thursday

A number of hospitals have submitted 20 so-called derogation requests, calling on doctors to return to work, some have submitted more than one plea.

All but one of the requests have been rejected, and the final one is being considered by the union.

Yesterday's action saw two hospitals declare critical incidents, while others reported long delays in A&E – with one hospital saying patients may need to wait “up to 11 hours”.

Rishi Sunak backed NHS leaders after the derogation requests prompted an angry reaction from the BMA.

He said: “The NHS is responsible for patient care and it’s right that they do absolutely everything they can to ensure patient care.

“These strikes are disrupting people’s lives. They are causing an enormous amount of concern to people.

“It’s absolutely right that NHS leaders, completely independent of government, are making clinical decisions on the ground. And requesting that extra support where they feel that they need it. Of course they have my backing in doing that.”

Mr Sunak has been told to come up with an emergency plan to reduce record waiting lists in the NHS, in a letter signed by a group of celebrities and NHS workers have said.

Millions of people stuck on the waiting lists are “getting sicker while waiting” and the situation is causing them “anxiety and uncertainty, according to presenter Stephen Fry, comedian Jo Brand, former NHS doctor and comedian Adam Kay and poet Michael Rosen.

Some 73,000 people have signed the letter including more than 1,000 NHS workers.

Exactly one year ago, the prime minister said cutting the NHS waiting list was one of his top priorities, and he pledged that “NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”.

He said that he wanted the country to hold him to account for delivering on the pledge.

In numbers

The number of patients waiting for treatments has gone up from an estimated 6.08 million in January 2023 to 6.44 million in October, the latest figure available.

And the number of treatments waiting to be carried out has gone up from 7.21 million in January 2023 to 7.71 million in October.

Of the 1,219,422 acute inpatient and outpatient appointment cancellations since the current period of strikes began, more than three-quarters (77%) have been on days where junior doctors have taken industrial action either by themselves or with other groups.

NHS England director Dr Vin Diwakar said the impact of the strike could go on for weeks due to lost doctor time, booking in rescheduled appointments and consultants catching up on their normal workload, which they were unable to do while covering for striking colleagues.

He said: “I hope they (the government) come back to the table now, but from all of the signals they are sending it won’t be until our strike action finishes. And I hope at that point we can come to a resolution.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “January is typically the busiest time of the year for the NHS and these strikes will have a serious impact on patients across the country.

“I urge the BMA junior doctors committee to call off their strikes and come back to the negotiating table so we can find a fair and reasonable solution to end the strikes once and for all.”

Dr Vin Diwakar, Regional Medical Director for London. Credit: PA

Last summer, the government gave junior doctors in England an average rise of 8.8%, but medics said the increase was not enough and ramped up strike efforts. They entered talks, but after five weeks of negotiations they broke down and more strikes were called.

Junior doctors from the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association union will join colleagues on picket lines.

Consultants and speciality and associate specialist (SAS) doctors have agreed on a deal with the government, which is being put to members.

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