Hospitals are preparing for increased pressure to services as junior doctors gear up for another 48-hour strike from Wednesday morning.
Only emergency care will be available at hospitals during the period of industrial action, which will take place from 8am on 6 April to 8am on 8 April.
“It’s deeply regrettable that thousands of patients are still facing disruption because of this recurring action”
NHS England said the strike – which is over the imposition of a new contract by the government – had caused acute trusts across the country to cancel around 2,000 inpatient appointments and 3,000 elective day surgery procedures.
However, it said careful planning ahead of the strike had minimised the numbers of cancelled operations. It said the NHS was doing “everything possible” to ensure patients would still be able to access urgent and emergency services.
It said it regretted the disruption patients would face and the delayed treatment some would receive as a result of the rearranged procedures.
Due to the strike closely following the Easter break, NHS England said it expected the action to result in “a difficult period, especially over the course of the second day”, but that it would be closely monitoring any events leading to rising pressures.
To reduce the pressure on hospitals, NHS England is advising patients to contact their GP, local pharmacist or to call NHS111 where possible.
“Everything possible is being done to make sure patients will still be able to access urgent and emergency services”
While GP services will be available as normal during the next two days, patients are being encouraged to arrange appointments before the strike action begins.
Dr Anne Rainsberry, national incident director for NHS England, said: “We’ve already seen that a 48-hour strike puts considerably more pressure on the NHS and it’s deeply regrettable that thousands of patients are still facing disruption because of this recurring action.”
“As always, the safety and care of patients is our number one priority and everything possible is being done to make sure patients will still be able to access urgent and emergency services,” she added.
“Following closely on from the four day Easter break this will be a difficult period especially over the course of the second day. Consequently we have redoubled our planning efforts and will be closely monitoring events to make sure we can respond to any rising pressures,” said Dr Rainsberry.
A further strike has been planned by the British Medical Association for 26 and 27 April, when junior doctors will remove emergency cover for the first time.
It will now see a full withdrawal of labour for a total of 18 hours, from 8am to 5pm on both days.
The Royal College of Nursing reiterated its support for the strike, stating it understood in particular the concerns over potential cuts to staff pay for unsocial hours.
An RCN spokeswoman said: “The RCN supports the doctors’ right to take lawful industrial action and understands their anger at changes being imposed on them by government.
”RCN members feel equally strongly about possible cuts in pay for those staff who have to work unsocial hours including at weekends. This is not the way to improve services for patients.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said the strike was “irresponsible” and ”disproportionate” and claimed that 25,000 operations had been cancelled since industrial action was organised at the end of last year.
She said: ”If the BMA had agreed to negotiate on Saturday pay, as they promised to do through [employment dispute organisation] ACAS in November, we’d have a negotiated agreement by now.
”We ask doctors to look at the detail of the contract and call on the BMA to cancel their plans to escalate strike action even further.”