Hospitals told to free up beds before NHS strikes

Senior doctors from other hospital departments will be redeployed to Accident and Emergency (A&E) next week to combat the expected “extensive disruption” during ambulance strikes. Hospitals have also been told to discharge as many patients as possible to free up beds ahead of 999 crews walking out across England and Wales on Wednesday.

It comes as NHS bosses have warned that “patients will come to harm” on December 21 when members of GMB, Unite and Unison will walk out, and December 28 when GMB members will strike.

Negotiations are ongoing between local ambulance services and trade union branches concerning which categories of callouts will be covered.

A letter sent by NHS bosses to hospitals and other local health leaders on Thursday said the industrial action will be “a very challenging period” that might result in care being cancelled.

Thursday’s nursing strike resulted in the cancellation of 15,779 appointments and operations as 9,999 nurses joined the picket lines, according to figures on the NHS England website.

At least 4,901 procedures and consultations were canceled in the Midlands compared to only 927 in the South East.

There will be a second nursing walkout on Tuesday and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has vowed that there will be more strikes in January unless ministers reopen pay talks.

The interim chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said the first strike had a “significant impact” with “some real pressure points around emergency departments, for example, including things like the slow transfer of patients out of those departments”.

Speaking to Times Radio, Rory Deighton, director of the acute network at the NHS Confederation warned that walkouts by ambulance workers would be even more challenging than the nursing strikes.

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There is also a suggestion that outpatient clinics led by senior doctors could be canceled so they could be redeployed to A&E or undertake extra ward rounds.

The letter also warns of “extensive disruption” due to the ambulance workers’ strike and suggests that hospitals could “free up maximum bed capacity by safely discharging patients . . . in advance of industrial action”.

They also suggested that canceling operations should be a last resort and that cancer diagnostics and treatment should be prioritized.

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