New NHS strikes would be ‘final nail in the coffin’, experts warn

Pat Cullen says government have lost nursing and the public

Fresh nursing strikes would drive the health service to the point of no return, an NHS adviser has warned.

The senior consultant said another walkout would be “the final nail in the coffin” for the service which he said is “past the tipping point”, with 7.2 million waiting for operations and more than 500,000 cancelled procedures after six consecutive months of strike action.

Experts say the unprecedented strikes, which saw nurses walking out on life critical care, “crossed the Rubicon” and there are now fears similar strikes could become the norm.

Others have said combined pressures on the NHS have placed the service in an “eternal winter”.

Last week the Royal College of Nursing and the Unite union announced they would ballot for more industrial action after rejecting the government’s pay deal, which most other health unions accepted.

The RCN said the new strike would, for a second time, involve nursing staff working in emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care, and other life critical services.

At the same time, the British Medical Association’s junior doctors committee is locked in a bitter pay dispute with the Government and some union members have hinted that co-ordinated strikes with the nurses and junior doctors could be on the cards.

The consultant, who advises the NHS and who asked not to be named, said: “The NHS is past the tipping point. It is now broken. A future strike with nurses, especially if coordinated with junior doctors, would drive the NHS into a position where it is not recoverable. This means patients wouldn’t get to see a GP, wouldn’t get specialist referral nor have any operation or procedure in reasonable time.

“We have now reached that position and future strikes would mean the NHS could not recover. It would be the final nail in the coffin.”

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We need a quick solution. We have had to postpone operations due to the strikes but we also had to stop booking patients which means even more are affected than official figures might suggest.

“The effect on patients is huge, not just physically but also financially and psychologically. This dispute requires compromise on both sides.”

Adam Brimelow, director of communications for NHS providers, said: “No one is complacent about the scale of the challenge and the unacceptable delays people are contending with.

“Industrial action on this scale is something we have never seen before.

“It has crossed the Rubicon, affecting the service in ways which previously would have been unimaginable.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “I’m pleased the NHS Staff Council has voted to accept our pay offer, demonstrating that a majority of NHS staff agree it is a fair deal.

“Where some unions may choose to remain in dispute, we hope their members – many of whom voted to accept this offer – will recognise this as a fair outcome that carries the support of their colleagues and decide it’s time to end industrial action.”

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