The NHS is set to face an influx of patients between now and Christmas after thousands of people choose not to seek treatment during the ambulance workers strike on Wednesday. According to senior doctors, as a result hospitals could struggle to cope at a time where they are usually scaling back their services for the festive period.
It comes as ministers now believe that no deal can be agreed with unions representing NHS workers over pay, following the rejection of a 7.5 percent pay rise by nurses and midwives in Scotland.
Thousands of ambulance workers, paramedics and 999 call handlers among others walked out on Wednesday across most of England and Wales.
This left the NHS unable to respond to many emergency calls with eight out of 10 ambulance trusts in England declaring “critical incidents” due to pressure on resources.
Hospital bosses praised the public for avoiding risky activity and for not calling 999 unless there was a life-threatening emergency.
However, the leader of Britain’s A&E doctors warned that patients staying away from hospitals could lead to a deterioration of their health.
A similar situation occurred during the Covid lockdowns where many avoided contacting the NHS which led to patients being harmed or even dying.
Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said he was worried about a “rebound effect” with large numbers of patients who stayed away on Wednesday visiting hospitals in the coming days and putting a strain on resources.
He said: “We have anxieties about people not seeking help when they should.
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The chief executive of one acute hospital told The Guardian that the problem could be compounded by the fact that the influx of patients is likely to occur during the slow Christmas and New Year period.
They said: “After the strike ends, we’ll have [ambulance] crews picking up the people who’ve been at home on the floor for a long time, plus the people who didn’t try to come in on Wednesday because they knew about the strike.
“We think we’ll see more people coming in on Thursday and Friday, ahead of the Christmas weekend, and with little hope of getting people home if they need support from social or community care.
“And then we’re into Christmas and New Year, when nothing much moves.”