Minimum safe staffing levels in hospitals could force doctors to work on strike days under new government plans

  • Consultations will take into account minimum service levels that cover emergency care
  • Junior doctors have held 19 days of industrial action in hospitals so far this year

Doctors could be forced to work on strike days under government plans to introduce minimum safe staffing levels in hospitals.

The Department of Health is launching a consultation on extending recent legislation to more healthcare workers, as consultants begin a two-day strike today.

Consultants have held four days of industrial action and junior doctors 19 days so far this year.

Junior doctors will begin their next three-day strike tomorrow, meaning they will go out at the same time as consultants for the first time.

Health leaders have raised concerns about the ‘nightmare scenario’ and revealed that some patients are now having operations postponed two or more times due to industrial action, including a growing number of patients with cancer.

Junior doctors hold signs during a strike, amid a dispute with the government over pay, in London on April 11 (file photo)

File photo dated January 18 this year, of a general view of staff on an NHS hospital ward

File photo dated January 18 this year, of a general view of staff on an NHS hospital ward

Strikes have cost the NHS around £1 billion so far and the number of canceled appointments and operations is expected to reach one million by the end of this week.

The consultation considers introducing minimum levels of service that would cover ‘urgent, emergency and time-critical healthcare services in hospitals’.

It follows a consultation earlier this year on the introduction of minimum service levels in ambulance services, and would bring Britain in line with countries such as France and Italy, whose services are continuing during times of industrial action.

Ministers believe that minimum service levels will strike a better balance between supporting workers’ ability to strike and the safety of the public.

Consultants and trainee doctors will go out together again on October 2, 3 and 4, to coincide with the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

The NHS is expected to see a ‘Christmas Day’ staffing level when both groups are off, with emergency care the priority.

The government has given a 6 per cent pay rise to consultants and the same plus a lump sum of £1,250 for trainee doctors, and has said there will be no further offers.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: ‘Strikes cannot become the status quo. Only the government working with the unions can put an end to this disruption.”