Planned strikes next week will be “very challenging” for the health service, hospital bosses have warned, after they conceded that Thursday’s nurses strikes had had a “significant impact”.
The comments from NHS Providers came amid mounting pressure on the government from senior backbenchers and usually supportive newspapers to try to resolve the dispute.
The Royal College of Nursing is planning another strike next Tuesday, which will be followed on Wednesday by a strike by ambulance workers.
Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, outlined the increased challenges the strikes would present to hospitals.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, she said: “It’s going to get increasingly difficult for trust leaders to manage this process because we know that the winter is always a very tricky time in the NHS and we know it’s a particularly demanding time.
“Coming alongside an ambulance strike on the following day, I think it’s going to be a very challenging time next week.”
She also described the “very demanding” impact of Thursday’s nurses’ strike.
She said: “What we saw yesterday was a really mixed picture, so we’re receiving varied reports from trust leaders across the country.
“I think we do know that there were some real pressure points around emergency departments, for example, including things like the slow transfer of patients out of those departments.
“In terms of things like routine operations, so far we’ve heard that probably between around 40 to 60% of those routine operations have been cancelled in places where the strikes were held.
“So it’s fair to say that there’s been a relatively significant impact and I think it was a very demanding day overall, on the frontline in the NHS.”
Several senior Tories have urged the government to negotiate with nurses. They include the former health minister and current health committee chair, Steve Brine, former cabinet ministers Jake Berry and Robert Buckland and the doctor and former health minister Dan Poulter.
Mick Lynch raised hopes that future rail strikes could be averted as travel was disrupted by a fresh 48-hour walkout and nurses warned their action could escalate.
The RMT leader believes compromise on conditions and an improvement in the pay offer are “achievable” after talks with the Government.
His members at 14 companies and Network Rail again walked out on Friday, crippling services across the country a day after an unprecedented nursing strike.
Health leaders warned the situation in the NHS will become “increasingly difficult” next week when nurses walk out again before ambulance staff strike.
With the Government under growing pressure to offer better pay deals to end the disruption by Christmas, the RMT attended talks with rail minister Huw Merriman on Thursday.
Lynch said there are “no new proposals on the table” but said there were “soundings-out” of possible solutions ahead of further talks with rail bosses.
“So we need some compromise on some of the conditions they’re putting on the offer and we’ll need an improvement in the pay offer. That is achievable, in my view,” he told Sky News.
“I know that there are some very simple steps that the employers and ourselves could take together to get a solution to this. That means a common-sense approach – both sides get into a position where there’s some commonly held positions.
“And I think we could do that in the next period. And if that is done very quickly, we can consider the industrial action going forward.”
Rail workers in England, Wales and Scotland will walk out again on Christmas Eve if there is no breakthrough.
The TSSA union accepting a pay offer from Network Rail was used by Merriman to argue there is “clearly an appetite amongst the workers themselves to strike a deal”.
But Lynch said those workers at the comparatively “miniscule” union in terms of Network Rail membership are “not affected by the changes” proposed.
“They are supervisors and white collar workers. They don’t do the work that our members do, who are profoundly affected by the changes,” he said.
Nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will walk out again on Tuesday after the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) first national action.
Some senior Conservatives have urged Rishi Sunak to get nurses a better pay deal, either by directly proposing one or by getting the NHS pay review body to recommend a fresh offer.
Rishi Sunak has refused to concede to the pressure from health leaders and some senior Conservatives to negotiate pay with nurses to prevent further strikes.
Speaking to the BBC during a visit to Belfast, the Prime Minister said: “The Health Secretary has always been clear, the door is always open, that’s always been the case, but we want to be fair, reasonable and constructive, that’s why we accepted the recommendations of an independent pay body about what fair pay would be.”
This follows the strike action taken by nurses across the country yesterday, who have indicated plans of more disruption unless their pay award was improved.
Sunak has faced pressure from senior conservatives including the former party chairman Jake Berry who said that the government should compromise.
“It’s a complicated issue,” he told TalkTV on Wednesday night. “The government is going to have to improve its offer.”