Strikes planned for next week will be “very challenging” for the health service, hospital chiefs have warned, after admitting Thursday’s strikes by nurses had had a “significant impact”.
The comments from NHS providers came amid mounting pressure on the government by senior deputies and, usually, supportive newspapers to try to resolve the dispute.
The Royal College of Nursing is planning another strike next Tuesday, followed by a strike by ambulance workers on Wednesday.
Hospitals have also been urged to free up as many beds as possible ahead of action by ambulance teams, as NHS data on Thursday showed ambulance delivery delays at A&E had reached a new high.
Saffron Cordery, interim CEO of National Health Service The providers described the biggest challenges that the strikes would present to the hospitals.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4 Today, he said: “It will become increasingly difficult for trusted leaders to manage this process because we know that winter is always a very difficult time in the NHS and we know that it is a particularly demanding time.
“Coming along with an ambulance strike the next day, I think it’s going to be a very challenging time next week.”
He also described the “very demanding” impact of the nurses’ walkout on Thursday.
She said: “What we saw yesterday was a really mixed picture, which is why we are getting mixed reports from trust leaders across the country.
“I think we know that there were some real pressure points in emergency departments, for example, including things like the slow transfer of patients out of those departments.
“In terms of routine operations, so far we have heard that probably 40% to 60% of those routine operations have been canceled in the places where the strikes took place.
“So it’s fair to say there’s been a relatively significant impact and I think it was a very demanding day overall, on the front lines in the NHS.”
NHS data on Thursday showed that one in six patients last week waited more than an hour to get through to A&E teams after arriving in an ambulance. Just over one in three had to wait at least 30 minutes.
David Sloman, NHS England’s chief operating officer, along with National Medical Director Stephen Powis and Nursing Director Dame Ruth May, issued a joint letter to NHS trusts on Thursday night warning of a “broad disruption”, saying measures should also be put in place to ensure ambulance patient transfers are kept to no more than 15 minutes.
Several senior Conservatives have urged the government to negotiate with the nurses. They include former health minister and current health committee chair Steve Brine, former cabinet ministers Jake Berry and Robert Buckland, and physician and former health minister Dan Poulter.
The Daily Express, one of the most pro-government newspapers, ran on the front page calling on ministers to resolve the dispute. Its headline read: “For the nurses, for Britain, sit down and figure this out.”
The current wave of industrial action reflects an “egregious failure” of the government, Labor Chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said.
Asked by Sky News if a Labor government would present nurses with a higher pay offer, he said: “We would be talking to them about the right deal to strike, one that works for public finances, that works for the health service, that It works for the patients and it works for the staff that integrate it”.