Junior doctors’ strike could trigger 300,000 appointment cancellations over Christmas and New Year, analysis suggests as cancer patient is left ‘worrying all the time’ that disease is spreading after surgery postponed due to walkouts

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Medics took to picket lines again this morning as part of their three-day walkout
  • Around 35,000 appointments a day, were cancelled during strike days so far 

More than 300,000 NHS appointments could be cancelled because of junior doctors strikes over Christmas and New Year, analysis suggests.

The medics took to picket lines again this morning as part of their three-day walkout and will stage a mammoth six-day stoppage from January 3. 

Around 35,000 appointments a day, on average, were cancelled during the 25 strike days already taken this year by the medics, who are calling for a 35 per cent pay rise.

The figure suggests that, if the latest action is as equally disruptive, 315,000 could be pushed back over the festive period, risking progress to bring down the 7.7million NHS backlog.

A breast cancer patient who was due to undergo a mastectomy yesterday, but had her care cancelled because of the action, shared that she ‘worries all the time’ the disease is spreading and hit out at the medics for making ‘normal people’ suffer.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins this morning said some junior doctors are ‘deeply uncomfortable’ about the timing of the strike and other groups of medics are being forced to ‘pick up the slack’ and work extra shifts over Christmas to cover for them. 

The medics took to picket lines again this morning as part of their three-day walkout and will stage a mammoth six-day stoppage from January 3. Pictured: Members of the British Medical Association on the picket line outside Leicester Royal Infirmary on December 21

The 25 days of action junior doctors have taken this year has already led to around 875,000 appointments being postponed.

NHS bosses say this figure is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the disruption caused by strikes because hospitals stop scheduling care for strike days when they are informed of them, which isn’t reflected in the figures. 

Andrea Connor is among the patients whose care has been postponed because of walkouts. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in September. 

The 54-year-old was yesterday due to have a mastectomy — removing the breast in a bid to eliminate the cancer — and reconstructive surgery. 

But Ms Connor, who owns a dog grooming salon, was told last week that it was cancelled because of strikes and given a new provisional date in January, four months after she was diagnosed. 

Junior doctors’ pay – the truth 

Junior doctors were awarded a pay rise of 6 per cent plus a consolidated payment of £1,250 in July, in line with the recommendation of the Independent Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration.

The package was equivalent to an average increase of 8.1 per cent from 2022/23 to 2023/24, or 10.3 per cent for those in their first year of training.

Average basic pay for a first year doctor increased from £29,384 to £32,397, while a junior doctor who had been a specialty trainee for six years or more saw their pay rise from £58,398 to £63,152.

Many are paid a higher sum for working overtime and receiving enhanced rates for working unsociable hours.

Junior doctors pocketed the extra money despite vowing to continue striking, with some boasting the additional income would subsidise further walkouts.

Steve Barclay, who was Health Secretary from October 2022 until November 2023, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had described the settlement as final and insisted there would be no more talks about pay.

But the British Medical Association has held further negotiations with officials and ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care since October, resulting an offer of an extra 3 per cent, which has been rejected by union representatives.

The BMA has claimed that junior doctors have seen their pay eroded by more than a quarter in real terms over the past 15 years.

The trainee medics have been demanding full pay restoration — worth around 35 per cent — and have said they would not settle for anything less, although senior figures within the union have suggested they may compromise.

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She told The Times that the cancellations and delays have left her with ‘worries all the time of — is it spreading? How long is it going to take? It’s just continuous until you get that operation done.

‘The junior doctor strike is just killing it for everybody. I completely understand the position that they’re in … but this isn’t the way to go about it, because normal people are suffering.’

The latest walkouts come after weeks of promising talks between the British Medical Association (BMA), which is coordinating the strikes, and ministers broke down.

The Government had initially offered junior doctors an 8.8 per cent pay rise, on average, for the 2023/24 financial year. 

However, the uplift was higher for first year medics, who were given a 10.3 per cent boost.

Junior doctors in their first year now have a basic pay of £32,300, while those with three years’ experience make £43,900. The most senior earn £63,100.

Ministers insisted this was the final offer, despite junior doctors staging weeks of devastating strikes from March in protest. 

But Ms Atkins offered the medics an additional 3 per cent on top of this rise.

However, Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, who co-chair the BMA’s junior doctor committee, said this sum was still ‘completely insufficient’ and pressed ahead with fresh walkouts.

The BMA has claimed that junior doctors have seen their pay eroded by more than a quarter in real terms since 2008.

Trainee medics have been demanding full pay restoration — worth around 35 per cent — and have said they would not settle for anything less. 

However, senior figures within the union have suggested they may compromise.

After talks broke down, Ms Atkins said the union walked away from the table before it was presented its ‘final offer’. 

The NHS has said emergency and urgent care will be prioritised during the strikes and that ‘almost all’ routine care will be affected.

Hospital leaders have described the walkouts as their ‘worst fears realised’ as they grapple with a rising number of people needing help with winter viruses, particularly norovirus.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There will be many, many doctors listening to this who feel deeply uncomfortable that their committee has called these strikes at this time. I would encourage anyone who feels like that quietly to consider whether this committee is in fact representing their views.

‘I know, for example, that consultants and nurses and other doctors who aren’t on strike are, today and yesterday, and will be over January, coming in, doing extra shifts, to ensure that that level of care is provided for patients.

NHS bosses had already warned that hospitals will operate at full capacity for just four weekdays until January 10. Only December 27, 28, 29 and January 2 are unaffected by the impending chaos of the holidays and walk-outs until January 10

NHS bosses had already warned that hospitals will operate at full capacity for just four weekdays until January 10. Only December 27, 28, 29 and January 2 are unaffected by the impending chaos of the holidays and walk-outs until January 10

The 25 days of action junior doctors have taken this year has already led to around 875,000 appointments being postponed. Pictured: Members of the British Medical Association on the picket line outside Leicester Royal Infirmary on December 21

The 25 days of action junior doctors have taken this year has already led to around 875,000 appointments being postponed. Pictured: Members of the British Medical Association on the picket line outside Leicester Royal Infirmary on December 21

The latest walkouts come after weeks of promising talks between the British Medical Association (BMA), which is coordinating the strikes, and ministers broke down. Pictured: Members of the British Medical Association on the picket line outside University College London Hospital on December 20

The latest walkouts come after weeks of promising talks between the British Medical Association (BMA), which is coordinating the strikes, and ministers broke down. Pictured: Members of the British Medical Association on the picket line outside University College London Hospital on December 20

‘They are being expected by the junior doctors’ committee to pick up the slack of their strikes.

‘After the three Christmases that our medical profession has seen with Covid, I think we all wanted this Christmas to be as calm and settled as possible. Instead, this strike action is just striking through that.’

She suggested Department of Health and Social Care ministers and officials would be ‘back round the table in 20 minutes’ for talks if the strikes are called off ‘and then we can see how much further we can go’.

She told BBC Breakfast: ‘It’s not just about pay, of course this is really important and indeed this year alone junior doctors have already had a pay rise of around 8.8 per cent, the most junior of doctors, the first and second year of doctors, they’ve had the highest pay rises within the range up to 10.3 per cent because we understand as a Government, we’ve heard what the doctors are saying to us.

‘I also want to do more than that, I don’t just want to look at pay, I also want to look at their conditions because when I walk around hospitals, when I talk to doctors, they tell me one of the things they want to feel is valued. I absolutely understand that and I want to work with them to enable that to happen. ‘

The BMA’s junior doctors’ committee has challenged the Government to make an offer first, so strikes could be cancelled.

Conciliation service Acas said it is ‘ready to help’ resolve the dispute.

Junior doctors in Wales are planning a 72-hour walkout from January 15 while doctors in training in Northern Ireland are being balloted for potential strike action.

Junior doctors in Scotland have already come to an agreement with the Scottish Government.

Consultant doctors from the BMA in England have reached a deal with the Government, with members currently voting whether or not to accept the deal.

Specialist, associate specialist and specialty doctors (SAS) in England have also come to an agreement, which is being put to members.

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