Top health leaders have raised concerns about the care of cancer patients during the impending nurses’ strikes, including warnings that some chemotherapy appointments are being rescheduled.
In a letter seen by Sky News political editor Beth Rigby, England’s NHS head of cancer care Dame Cally Palmer called on Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union leader Pat Cullen to protect cancer “lifesaving” and “urgent”. surgery strikes, which begin on Thursday.
In another letter obtained by the Times, England’s Director of Nursing Dame Ruth May says chemotherapy appointments are being rescheduled and calls for guarantees on the care of dying patients during strikes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on December 15 and 20. .
Dame Cally said she was “extremely concerned by the absence of a national derogation for urgent cancer surgery.”
An exception is an exemption, either for an individual or for an entire service, from participating in strike action.
He continued: “I understand how enormously difficult these issues are for everyone involved, but our common goal is to ensure that we do no harm to people undergoing vital cancer treatment to achieve a cure or extension of life.
“It is important that there is a clear and consistent decision on urgent cancer in line with the national derogation for chemotherapy and intensive care.”
The RCN insists there will be a repeal for emergency cancer services, as well as mental health, learning disabilities and autism services, saying the public was behind their action.
“The public supports our campaign and knows that patients need a strong nursing workforce, but right now there are record losses that put safe care at risk,” the union said.
Dame Cally said the strikes are likely to lead to canceled operations for cancer patients in the P1 and P2 categories.
In his letter, he explained that P1 surgery “saves lives, is time-critical and must be sustained,” while P2 is “urgent oncology surgery that has an optimal time window.”
He said the rescheduling of the procedures “is likely to lead to delayed operations and worse outcomes” and many of these patients will move into the P1 category, requiring life-saving procedures as a result of the rescheduling.
The RCN, however, insisted that cancer patients undergo emergency and clinically urgent surgery, saying in its response to the letter that this was “not in question.”
A union spokesman added: “This is a politically motivated smear of a government that is failing cancer patients.”
In their correspondence, the head nurse from England and her counterparts from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland wrote to Ms Cullen to raise a number of patient safety concerns.
“Many nursing managers/nursing directors are, of course, RCN members and some have expressed feelings of being let down by RCN,” they wrote.
Head nurses said chemotherapy is being rescheduled from strike days at some hospitals despite the union agreeing it would be exempted nationwide.
They wrote that “there are examples of some trusts being asked to submit waiver forms for chemotherapy and organizations now preparing to reschedule chemotherapy from December 15-20.”
The head nurses also called for assurances that community nursing services that provide “end-of-life care and good pain and symptom relief” continue to “relieve unnecessary distress” for palliative patients and their families.
The RCN said on Tuesday it had agreed to further exemptions to the strike, including emergency cancer services and “front door” urgent care admission and assessment units for pediatric-only A&E departments.
“This letter is already out of date, as today we met with high-level doctors and agreed on key points. Patient safety is everyone’s top concern,” the union spokesman said.
The heated exchange of letters came at a time when a new report shows the NHS is treating fewer patients than before the pandemic despite having more funding and staff, suggesting a long-term strategy. COVID-19 impact on health service performance.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said the NHS made 14% fewer emergency admissions, 14% fewer outpatient appointments and 11% fewer maternity and elective admissions in the last month of data than in the same reporting period. 2019, according to the IFS. .
Why did the talks break down?
Talks between unions and the government to try to avoid a strike broke down on Monday after Health Secretary Steve Barclay he was accused of refusing to negotiate payment.
The union is demanding a 5% wage increase above the RPI rate of inflation, which was 14.2% in October, but Ms Cullen has hinted that she might relent if the government negotiates wages.
Ministers have repeatedly insisted they cannot afford to hand out inflation-busting pay rises and say they have accepted the independent pay review body’s recommendation of a £1,400 raise.
Meanwhile, members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union launched the first of two 48-hour strikes at Network Rail – and 14 train companies – on Tuesday that will last until Friday.
The strikes come at a time of planned industrial action in a host of UK spheres, including healthcare, with paramedics also planning to go out postal workers, Border Force Agentsfirefighters, driving instructors, bus operators, airport baggage handlers and even coffin makers.