NHS strikes cancelled more than one million appointments, figures expected to show

Junior doctors and consultants on a picket line in London earlier this month
Junior doctors and consultants on a picket line in London earlier this month - Stefan Rousseau/PA

NHS strikes have led to the cancellation of more than one million hospital appointments, figures are expected to show on Monday.

Health service leaders have called the situation “damaging and demoralising” and warned there is a “human cost” every time a procedure or appointment is delayed.

Further joint strikes between junior doctors and consultants are due next week during the Tory party conference.

Official figures on Monday will show the impact of last week’s walkouts by both groups on cancellations, which had already reached around 940,000 since strikes began last December.

The figures are expected to exceed one million, hospital leaders said.

It comes as Freedom of Information requests reveal that patients had operations postponed as many as 13 times last year, with a sharp rise in those enduring repeated delays.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “How bad does it have to get before we see an end to these damaging and demoralising industrial disputes?

“The immediate concern has to be with patients – more than a million and counting – whose care or treatment has been delayed.

“Trust leaders understand only too well the distress this can bring them and their loved ones.”

She said the true toll is likely to be far greater, with hospitals avoiding scheduling appointments for strike days in order to avoid having to cancel them.

Ms Cordery added: “With the official tally of figures capturing those procedures and appointments that we know are rescheduled, thousands more patients will be affected because trusts are simply not booking in care for strike days known well in advance.”

‌Patients ‘catastrophically let down’

Junior doctors, who want a 35 per cent pay rise, have suggested they will continue striking until the Government makes a “credible offer” that the British Medical Association (BMA) can present to its members. Consultants want an above-inflation pay award of 11 per cent.

Separate figures show more than 25,000 operations in England postponed at least twice last year - a rise of almost a fifth in a year.

In the worst case, a patient at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust had their operation postponed 13 times.

A patient at Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust suffered the same fate on 11 occasions, while a patient at University Hospital North Midlands endured 10 cancellations.

The Liberal Democrats, who obtained the statistics, described the situation as “harrowing”.

The figures show 25,368 operations were cancelled at least twice in 2022 - up from 21,477 the year before, a rise of 18 per cent.

Most such cancellations pre-date NHS strikes, which began at the end of last year.

The figures were obtained through Freedom of Information requests, with data provided by 78 of the 124 hospital trusts in England.

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “At the heart of each of these harrowing statistics is someone waiting in pain for the treatment they need after having their operation cancelled yet again.

“Rishi Sunak promised to bring NHS waiting lists down, instead people are being let down after years of willful neglect of our local health services under the Conservatives.

“It is a scandal that patients are being so catastrophically let down, with some seeing their operation cancelled ten times or more.”

Disruption ‘unacceptable’

In January, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, pledged to make cutting waiting lists one of his five priorities.

Since then they have risen by more than 400,000, with a record 7.6 million - one in seven people - yet to receive planned treatment.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The co-ordinated action will create further unacceptable disruption for patients and fellow NHS staff.

“We accepted the independent pay review body’s recommendations in full, meaning doctors who started their hospital training this year are receiving a 10.3 per cent pay increase, with the average junior doctor getting 8.8 per cent.

“Consultants are receiving a 6 per cent pay rise and are already in the top 2 per cent of earners in the country.”

He added: “This pay award is final, and the majority of unions representing over one million other NHS workers have accepted our offer and called off further strike action.

“The Health and Social Care Secretary is clear his door is open to discuss non-pay issues if the BMA call an end to this damaging disruption.”

The week of walkouts was the sixth round of strikes for junior doctors and the third for consultants, with both groups out together on Wednesday of last week.

Even before then, strikes are estimated to have cost the NHS around £1 billion.

Consultants have been able to charge up to £3,000 a shift by insisting they are paid rates set by the BMA to cover for more junior medics.

Joint strikes are planned for Oct 2,3 and 4, with the NHS reduced to a “Christmas Day” service focussed on emergency care.