Junior doctors and consultants in England have launched their longest period of joint strike action after beginning their three-day walkout.
Both sets of staff will deliver “Christmas Day” levels of staffing from 7am on Monday until the same time on Thursday after taking joint action in September for the first time in the history of the NHS, which led to almost 130,000 inpatient and outpatient appointments being rescheduled.
It comes as the Government urged unions to end “relentless” strike action, insisting doctors have received a “fair and reasonable” pay rise.
The British Medical Association (BMA), whose members are striking, said doctors are “fed up” of being labelled the problem.
It said a new survey of 1,765 adults showed that Government attempts to blame medics for “cripplingly long” waiting lists have not convinced the public.
More than two in five respondents blamed the Government for the increase in waiting lists for elective treatment in England, which have risen from 2.6 million in 2010 to almost 7.7 million.
This is almost three times the number who blame striking doctors (15%), said the BMA.
Professor Phil Banfield, the BMA chair of council, said: “Doctors are fed up of being told we are the problem with the NHS.”
He added: “It is not fair for the Government to continue to blame doctors or other healthcare workers for their own failure to properly resource the health service in England.
“What we see today is that the public largely sees through that excuse. Many more appointments and operations are cancelled outside the strike days because of a shortage of beds, staff or operating capacity due to the relative chronic underfunding.”
Dr Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “The decision to strike is a difficult one – no doctor will be taking this action lightly. But doctors feel undervalued, overworked and under-resourced to deliver the care they want to provide.
“We must see an end to this dispute, and we urge the Government to take the lead to end the impact on patient care.”
NHS Providers called the joint strike a “worrying escalation” in the long-running dispute with Government and said the “stalemate” cannot continue.
Deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said: “It will mean delay, disappointment and disruption for tens of thousands of patients.”
She went on: “This stalemate can’t continue. Especially as we approach winter – the toughest time of the year for the NHS.
“All parties involved need to engage in meaningful talks to find a resolution that safeguards patient care, minimises financial impact and promotes staff wellbeing.”
NHS England warned “thousands” more appointments are expected to be rescheduled over the course of the week, days after the total number of postponements since strikes began exceeded one million.
NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “NHS services have had very little time to recover from the previous action, and to now face an unprecedented three consecutive days of ‘Christmas Day’ cover this week will prove extremely challenging, with almost all routine care brought to a near standstill.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “I’m deeply disappointed and concerned by further co-ordinated strike action which poses continued challenges for the NHS and disruption for patients, and means more will have vital treatment and care delayed.”
“I urge unions to end their relentless strike action,” he added. “Doctors have received a fair and reasonable pay rise – as recommended by the independent pay review body, which we’ve accepted in full.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub