Following continued disputes, nurses up and down the UK have started the largest strike of its kind in the NHS’s almost 75-year history.
The industrial action is expected to affect up to 44 trusts in England, every health board in Wales, and all but one in Northern Ireland – there will be no strikes in Scotland.
Health leaders have been preparing for the winter strikes and have already made moves to increase capacity and control the inevitable additional strain on services – this includes the roll out of winter war rooms, expanded bed capacity, and enhanced mental health support.
Despite the strikes, and with the contingency plans in place, the NHS has said it is “vital” that patients continue to present themselves at health systems throughout the country and come forward for emergency care.
NHS Deputy Chief Nursing Officer Charlotte McArdle said: “No one should hesitate in coming forward for emergency care tomorrow – it is vital anybody needing non-life threatening care should use 111 online and people should always call 999 in a life threatening emergency.
“Across the country, pharmacies and GP services will be operating as normal and patients should reach out to these local services as they normally would.
“While strikes will cause inevitable disruption to services, local NHS teams have worked hard to maintain as many appointments as possible, so it is important people attend appointments as planned unless they have been contacted for it to be rearranged.”
Local systems will also be supported by regional and national teams; local employers were also issued NHS England guidance last month detailing what derogations they should seek from union representatives to make sure life-preserving services like chemotherapy continue.
NHS Medical Director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “NHS teams have worked and continue to work hard to minimise disruption from strikes due to take place this month but there will be disruption to services.
“While patients may see different types of staff striking on different days, or their local NHS services impacted by strikes on some days but not others, the things patients should do to access NHS care remain the same.
“People must call 999 in any life-threatening emergency during strikes as well as attending pre-booked appointments as planned unless they have been contacted by their local NHS for it to be rearranged.”