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We cannot let strikes drag on into winter, says NHS England chief

NHS leaders have implored the Government and striking doctors to end the dispute.

The head of the NHS has implored doctors and the Government to work to end their bitter dispute over pay, as she warned that strikes “cannot drag on” into the NHS’s busy winter months.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said that patients are “heartbroken” when appointments and operations are postponed as a result of strike action.

So far around 650,000 appointments, operations and procedures have been postponed as a result of strike action in the NHS in England alone, with the threat of more cancellations to come as doctors are preparing to stage more strikes next week.

Conciliation service Acas has said that it is “ready and prepared to help” but the Government is refusing to enter talks with doctors while strikes are scheduled.

Amanda Pritchard said the strikes are 'now proving to be really very disruptive for patients' (PA)
Amanda Pritchard said the strikes are ‘now proving to be really very disruptive for patients’ (PA)

Later this month, junior doctors are planning to stage the largest walkout in the NHS’s history – from July 13-18.

And consultants – the most senior doctors in the NHS – are planning to stage industrial action from July 20-21, when they will only provide scaled-back “Christmas Day cover”.

Ms Pritchard said that the strikes, which are “pretty much back-to-back” will pose a “real challenge” for the NHS.

Earlier this week, the British Medical Association (BMA) threatened to strike “until the next general election and beyond” and warned that other doctor groups could also stage walkouts, including GPs.

“We are now eight months into the most disruptive, most significant period of industrial action in our history,” Ms Pritchard told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“That is now likely to get more challenging again, as we hit both junior doctors and consultants taking action.

“In the middle of this month, we’ve got action planned seven out of eight days and it’s pretty much back-to-back so that will really challenge our system.

“My job isn’t pay, that’s (for) the Government to do with unions, but my job is absolutely to work with unions and with the NHS to make sure that we are mitigating the risks to patients’ safety.”

She added: “We work with everyone to try and make sure that in the course of industrial action, we are focused on keeping patients safe and minimising disruption.

“But the hard truth is this is now proving to be really very disruptive for patients.

“We’ve had many hundreds of thousands appointments, procedures cancelled, rescheduled.

“And you know, the next set of action is going to mean more of that.

“It’s heartbreaking when you have an appointment cancelled when you have a procedure cancelled, particularly if you’ve been waiting a long time, and particularly if it’s not the first time that’s happened.

“So I really would urge all sides to redouble their efforts to find a solution.

“Last winter was the busiest on record and we cannot let strikes drag on into this winter.”

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