NHS to run Bank Holiday levels of service on day one of nurses' strike

NHS to run Bank Holiday levels of service on day one of Royal College of Nursing strike – as health chief ‘extremely concerned’ of risks to cancer patients

  • Hospitals will run Bank Holiday levels of service today as nurses go on strike
  • Up to 100,000 health workers will join strike from Royal College of Nursing
  • National cancer director Dame Cally Palmer warned of the impact on patients 
  • Up to 64,000 outpatient sessions such as MRI scans and checkups could be lost

The nursing union is putting patients at risk by failing to protect lifesaving services on strike days, the profession’s UK leaders have warned.

Hospitals will operate a Bank Holiday service model today as fed-up nurses stage a strike over the Government’s refusal to discuss pay in line with inflation.

Thousands of operations and appointments have been cancelled as a result of industrial action by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Up to 100,000 health workers are expected to join the action in protest at a decade of below-inflation pay awards, The Mirror reports.

Up to 100,000 workers will take part in today’s strike organised by the Royal College of Nursing

NHS Confederation chief Matthew Taylor said: ‘I think what you’ll see is a kind of bank holiday level service and, with the goodwill of the trade unions, we can avoid severe patient harm.’

Strikes will see only ‘life and limb’ services maintained to their usual level, while cancer patients face limited operations – with around 6,000 non-urgent operations cancelled.

Life-saving cancer surgeries, known as P1, and urgent cancer surgeries, known as P2, take place around 1,200 times each day in the UK. Dame Cally is also chief executive of Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, and said it could take up to six weeks for her teams to recover the capacity lost in a day of strikes.

Up to 64,000 outpatient appointments including MRI scans and cancer checkups may also be off.

National cancer director for England, Dame Cally Palmer, called on the RCN to exempt cancer surgery from its walkouts.

In a letter to RCN general secretary Pat Cullen, Dame Cally wrote that she was ‘extremely concerned’ at the impact on cancer patients, The Telegraph reports.

In a letter to RCN general secretary Pat Cullen (right), national cancer director Dame Cally Palmer (left) wrote that she was ‘extremely concerned’ at the impact on cancer patients

She wrote: ‘I understand how enormously difficult these issues are for all concerned, but our common aim is to ensure we do not cause harm to people undergoing vital cancer treatment to achieve cure or extension to life.’

Dame Cally Palmer asked the RCN to adopt a ‘compassionate approach for patients’ and permit surgeons to perform urgent operations to ‘avoid harm’

A RCN spokesman said: ‘This is a politically-motivated smear from a government failing cancer patients’, insisting it was ‘not in doubt’ patients needing cancer surgery would receive treatment.

Dame Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, has written to Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen to say many leaders feel ‘let down’.

The letter is co-signed by her counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and urges Mrs Cullen to do more to protect patient safety during walkouts.

Up to 15,000 operations could be cancelled as a result of the nursing strike tomorrow, with further action planned for next Tuesday.

Up to 100,000 nurses are expected to walk out of hospitals, including A&Es and cancer wards, after the Government refused demands for a 19.2 per cent pay rise.

Health leaders say patients should expect a ‘bank holiday level’ of service as a result.

Dame Ruth’s letter suggests the RCN’s refusal to staff hospital wards and A&Es fully means patients could miss out on lifesaving treatment such as antibiotics, which must be given promptly to prevent death from infections such as sepsis. The chief nurses add that local RCN strike committees are defying national union guidance and refusing to guarantee they will provide chemotherapy.

They also warn that dying patients may have to go without pain relief and they seek assurances that the RCN will act to ‘alleviate unnecessary distress for patients’.

The letter urges the union to soften its stance and allow members to cross picket lines to cover A&E, all cancer therapy and urgent mental health care, including for children.

It adds: ‘Many chief nurses/directors of nursing are, of course, RCN members themselves and some have expressed feelings of having been let down by the RCN.’

The RCN has said it will maintain a ‘life-preserving model of care’, with most services reduced to ‘Christmas Day’ or ‘night duty’ levels.

Last night, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said patients would be ‘worried and frustrated’ by tomorrow’s strike and called on the RCN to call it off. An RCN spokesman said the letter from the chief nurses was ‘out of date’ as the union had ‘met senior clinicians today and agreed key points’.

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that a union guide for nurses preparing to strike says they should ask patients: ‘Will you support us?’

Tories called the move ‘totally unacceptable’. The RCN was unavailable for comment over the guide.

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