NHS junior doctor strikes are making GP crisis WORSE, experts warn amid devastating six-day walk-out to bring ailing hospitals to a standstill

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  • Officials have already warned 200,000 appointments could be cancelled 
  • *** Has YOUR operation or appointment been affected by strike action this week? Email Emily Stearn at Emily.Stearn@mailonline.co.uk *** 

Junior doctor strikes are piling extra pressure on struggling GP surgeries, doctors have warned.

Practices juggling their own crises have had to lay on more appointments to cope with the surge in demand, it was claimed today.

Thousands of junior doctors last week embarked on a six-day strike — the biggest ever in the NHS’s 75-year history.  

The walk-out, designed to bring hospitals to a standstill during the busiest time of year, ends at 7am tomorrow.

Officials fear the impact of the action will be felt for ‘weeks and months’, with up to 200,000 operations and appointments estimated to have been cancelled. 

Thousands of junior doctors last week embarked on a six-day strike — the biggest ever in the NHS’s 75-year history. The walk-out, designed to bring hospitals to a standstill during the busiest time of year, ends at 7am tomorrow. Officials fear the impact of the action will be felt for ‘weeks and months’ , with up to 200,000 operations and appointments estimated to have been cancelled. Pictured, junior doctors on the picket line outside Cheltenham General Hospital today

In a bid to get the NHS up to speed again and tackle the ever-growing backlog, ministers have pleaded with the British Medical Association (BMA) bosses to 'come back to the table' . Health chiefs have urged Brits to continue to seek care if they need it and approach GP surgeries for appointments and 'health advice'

In a bid to get the NHS up to speed again and tackle the ever-growing backlog, ministers have pleaded with the British Medical Association (BMA) bosses to ‘come back to the table’ . Health chiefs have urged Brits to continue to seek care if they need it and approach GP surgeries for appointments and ‘health advice’ 

The graph shows the ratio of GP patients to practices since 2015, with an average of 9,755 patients per surgery in May 2023

The graph shows the ratio of GP patients to practices since 2015, with an average of 9,755 patients per surgery in May 2023

In a bid to get the NHS up to speed again and tackle the ever-growing backlog, ministers have pleaded with the British Medical Association (BMA) bosses to ‘come back to the table’

Health chiefs have urged Brits to continue to seek care if they need it and approach GP surgeries for appointments and ‘health advice’.

London-based NHS GP Dr Hana Patel told MailOnline: ‘I have felt there is an increase in pressure on GP services since Wednesday and a busier start to the new year. 

‘There are also a lot of viral illnesses going around, mostly prolonged chest infections and temperature symptoms.’

She added: ‘We will see the workload later due to patients having operations, investigations and outpatient appointments cancelled, as the GP is the first port of call for patients, with requests to follow up to ask for appointments and operations to be expedited.’ 

What does the latest GP appointment data show?

Appointments: 31.4million

Attended: 89.8 per cent 

Seen by GP: 40.4 per cent

Seen by nurse: 19.2 per cent 

Face-to-face appointment: 67.9 per cent

Phone call appointment: 25.5 per cent

Same day: 42.6 per cent

Up to one week wait: 26.7 per cent

One to two week wait: 13.4 per cent

Two to four weeks wait: 12.4 per cent

NHS England data for November 

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Meanwhile, Azeem Majeed, a GP in south London and head of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, told MailOnline: ‘Whenever there is a doctor’s strike, general practices do see an increase in demand for appointments from patients. 

‘NHS social media encourages patients to seek advice from general practices and pharmacies during strike action, so this is expected. 

‘Many local practices have laid on extra appointments during strike periods to try to cope with this demand. This is in addition to the longer term impact of strike action on areas such on waiting lists and delaying routine care for patients.’ 

It comes as the BMA last week rejected more than 20 requests from hospitals across England to allow medics to return to work, claiming staff shortages were compromising patient safety.

In response, NHS chiefs told the union it would ‘evidence harm and near misses which might have been avoided’ in all hospitals where these requests were rejected. 

On the first day of walkout action on Wednesday, critical incidents were declared at both Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust and Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care Board. 

More than a dozen other hospitals also said their emergency services were busy, with some reporting ‘extreme heightened pressure’.

The days after the New Year, however, are when the NHS usually hits peak winter pressures because of seasonal illnesses. NHS England modelling is forecasting this to hit around the middle of the month. 

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins, who has already sketched out deals with consultant and specialist doctors, last week argued that the NHS ‘doesn’t just belong’ to the BMA. 

She said: ‘I’ve said throughout this that, please, to the junior doctors’ committee, the moment you call off the strikes I’ll get back around the table with you within 20 minutes.

‘It’s just we have to have the strikes called off, because the NHS belongs to us all.

GP workforce data for May 2023 shows there are 27,200 fully-qualified GPs in England. This is down from 27,627 one year earlier. GP numbers peaked at 29,537 in March 2016

GP workforce data for May 2023 shows there are 27,200 fully-qualified GPs in England. This is down from 27,627 one year earlier. GP numbers peaked at 29,537 in March 2016

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

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

On the first day of walkout action on Wednesday, critical incidents were declared at both Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust and Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care Board. Pictured, junior doctors on the picket line outside Cheltenham General Hospital today

On the first day of walkout action on Wednesday, critical incidents were declared at both Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust and Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care Board. Pictured, junior doctors on the picket line outside Cheltenham General Hospital today

‘It doesn’t just belong to the junior doctors’ committee, and for the 1.3million people who work in the NHS, as well of course for the tens of millions of people it looks after, the NHS cannot be switched on and off on whim.’

But union leaders argued the Government has made a ‘political choice’ not to negotiate during strike action. 

Professor Philip Banfield, BMA council chairman, said: ‘It is a political choice for this Government to stick rigidly to its dogma of not negotiating while strikes are planned.

‘In the past, the Government waived this principle for the barrister strikes, so there is no reason for them to waste time and money by refusing to talk now.

‘We are clear: we are ready to talk 24/7. Get back around the table, give us a credible offer and we can end these strikes right now.’

As strike action began last Wednesday, patients were reminded to ‘only use 999 and A&E in life-threatening emergencies, and to use NHS 111 online and other services for non-urgent health needs’.

NHS England national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis added: ‘Pharmacies and GPs are largely unaffected by the strikes so patients can still get appointments and health advice.’

NHS data, however, has long shown GPs are under huge pressure and treating a record number of people. 

Family doctors have reported cramming in up to 90 appointments per day in some areas, warning that rushing patients through in conveyor belt-like scenes risks missing serious illnesses. 

The BMA recommends GPs should not deliver more than 25 appointments a day to ensure safe care. 

The crisis is fuelled by soaring demand coupled with dwindling numbers of GPs, as many choose to retire early, go private or even move abroad.

Dr Grant Ingrams, chairman of the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Local Medical Committee, told MailOnline: ‘There will be, in theory, an increase [in pressure] over the long term.

‘But as the patient demand for general practice continues to run up to 20 per cent higher than before Covid it is unlikely that this will be noticeable.’

He added: ‘Although the ongoing increase in demand has been put down to many factors, including the long waiting times in secondary care, and other backlogs from Covid pandemic, local data suggests that the increase is actually due to an increase in patient need — more patients being recorded to have one or more diagnoses.

‘Our problems are much more related to underinvestment, leaving fewer GPs trying to cope with increased workload. 

‘This means GPs providing an unsafe service, and still not meeting the wishes of patients.’

Latest NHS data shows there were 31.4million GP appointments in November. 

Almost half were on the same day (42.6 per cent) and a quarter (25.8 per cent) had to wait more than a week. 

The data for England also found more than two thirds (67.9 per cent) of GP consultations were face-to-face. 

In the wake of the pandemic, GP patient satisfaction has plunged to its lowest level on record. 

Patients have continually expressed their frustration over access, particularly with regards to in person face-to-face appointments. 

GPs say they overwhelmed due to the pressures of the rising and ageing population, a lack of government funding and a shortage of doctors. 

Ministers have also silently binned a promise to hire 6,000 more GPs, which was a major part of Boris Johnson’s election-winning manifesto. Just 2,000 more family doctors have been recruited since 2019. 

Worsening the staffing crisis is the fact that many current GPs are retiring in their 50s, moving abroad or leaving to work in the private sector because of soaring demand, NHS paperwork, and aggressive media coverage. 

GP surgeries have also faced rising levels of harassment, assaults and verbal abuse targeted at staff in recent months. 

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