Public Health Crisis: The Start of New Period of Strikes in the NHS

Healthcare has been significantly disrupted by widespread strikes, a critical sector impacted by these events. The healthcare workers’ protest, which also comes on the eve of the holidays, means that hospitals will be forced to reduce most routine services and focus only on emergencies for three weeks. According to reports, doctors will strike again in the new year for their longest-ever strike. This article explores the reasons behind recent healthcare workers’ protests, especially during Sunak’s prime ministership. It will also address the problems created for patients and the health system following the healthcare workers’ protest.

The stalemate of doctors’ negotiations with the UK government

Following unsuccessful negotiations with Rishi Sunak’s government regarding better working conditions and wages, the British Medical Association (BMA) initiated strikes earlier this month. While the government proposed a three per cent salary hike for interns on top of the average 8.8 per cent raise earlier in the year, the union dismissed this offer. Medical staff argued that this increment varied across different job categories among doctors, resulting in uneven distribution and, for many, essentially constituting a pay cut.


Timing of the strike of British doctors

The strikes started at 7:00 AM on December 20 and ended at 7:00 AM on December 23. After the new year, the doctors planned to go on strike for six days from 7:00 AM on January 3 to 7:00 AM on January 9. Junior doctors working in Wales are also set to go on strike for 72 hours starting January 15. Similar strikes will likely occur in Northern Ireland, but their Scottish counterparts have agreed with the Edinburgh government.


80% reduction in the activity of medical centres in the next three weeks

Health officials say that holidays or strike action will affect several days over the next three weeks. Some health experts have warned that the strikes could force more than half of hospitals to cancel surgeries. Also, the activity level of these medical centres may decrease by almost 80%.


Doctors’ strikes at the height of the outbreak of seasonal diseases

The ongoing strikes within the National Health Service (NHS) have led to the cancellation of over 1.1 million medical appointments since their commencement last year. Adding to this, young doctors have declared a forthcoming three-day strike starting on January 15. It’s projected that around 3 thousand young doctors will resign from their positions following this strike to join the ongoing protests. Moreover, British doctors are gearing up for a six-day strike on January 3, 2024. These strikes coincide with a critical phase for the NHS, facing heightened strain due to the surge in seasonal respiratory illnesses.


Increased mortality of patients under the influence of disruption in the health system

The Times reported that an estimated 340,000 people on NHS waiting lists died last year, based on information received from the NHS. This figure accounts for more than 60% of all deaths in the UK. Louise Ansari, chief executive of Healthwatch England, a patient advocacy group that scrutinises NHS performance, said: “We know that delays to care have significant impacts on people’s lives, putting many in danger.”

The impact of strikes on increasing the waiting list of patients

In England, the waiting list is 7.8 million people, the highest figure since records began in 2007. Rishi Sunak, who promised that people would get the treatment they needed faster, admitted that repeated doctor strikes had stalled progress.


Patients wait two and a half years for an MRI

Patients in the UK wait up to two-and-a-half years for an MRI scan. According to statistics from the Guardian, some patients in England wait up to two and a half years for important diagnostic tests such as ultrasound, MRI, and CT scan. The longest waits were two-and-a-half years for an MRI scan, almost two years for an ultrasound, and one year for a CT scan. People with heart problems are in an unpleasant situation. NHS statistics show a waiting time of 49 weeks for an echocardiogram and 475 days for an angiogram. Under NHS law, patients must wait less than six weeks for diagnostic tests. The aim is for just one per cent to wait more than six weeks, but according to research by the House of Commons Library, 25 per cent of all patients are now on the waiting list.


Cancellation of 2 million surgeries during strikes

Hospital bosses believe 2 million appointments and outpatient procedures have been cancelled due to the NHS strikes, double the official figure. NHS England announced that a strike by nurses, doctors, and other staff over pay, which began in December last year, has delayed over a million appointments. But Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, told the Guardian the real figure was likely to be much higher: “While over 1m cancelled appointments are already impacting the health, wellbeing, and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of patients, we fear that the true number of cancellations – including those that are hidden from the official statistics – could be as many as double.”


Shadow Health Secretary Criticizes NHS

The number of deaths on waiting lists increased by 15% in 2020 with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and continued to rise in 2021 and last year. Shadow Health & Social Care Secretary Wes Streeting said: “The number of patients who’ve died while waiting for NHS treatment has doubled in the last five years. People were left waiting in agony in their final months. The basic premise of an NHS that’s there for us when we need the Conservatives have broken it. ”


The heavy financial burden of strikes on the NHS

The deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: “The continuing dispute – and the absence of meaningful dialogue between the two sides – is worrying for patients, demoralising for staff, and damaging for the NHS. Patients have been left paying the price with concerns mounting about the deteriorating quality of life for those who continue to face long delays to their care.”


The crisis of not providing health services to patients in 2024

Almost all routine care will be affected by the general strike. With the Christmas holidays in mind, strikes by doctors will extend the period of reduced activity in the UK’s healthcare sector and push back the full delivery of health services to 2024. Meanwhile, the NHS has seen a significant increase in demand due to winter. The health system officials have warned that the healthcare workers’ protest will put additional pressure on the NHS. These strikes are happening at a time that is causing severe disruption to the NHS. This is even though the services were under pressure before.


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