On Wednesday, hospital executives warned of the threat to patient safety posed by the latest doctors strike, the first time consultants and junior physicians in England walked out at the same time.
In the midst of the most severe cost-of-living crisis in a generation, doctors and the government are at odds over their compensation demands.
Strikes over excessive workloads and salary raises below inflation have caused thousands of appointments and surgeries to be rescheduled, on top of a massive pandemic backlog dragging down the state-run National Health Service.
Previous industrial action has seen consultants and junior doctors strike at different times, allowing them to cover for each other.
“Consultants and junior doctors walking out together is the awful scenario health leaders have long feared,” said Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations.
Taylor said that the strike could result in 100,000 operations and appointments being cancelled, taking the total to “well over a million” since the start of the long-running series of walkouts.
“Leaders will have pulled every lever available to them to mitigate the impact of this strike, but it is inevitable that patient safety is compromised,” he said adding that the level of risk was the “highest we’ve seen for a long time”.
A two-day strike by consultants started on Tuesday with junior doctors joining them for a three-day strike from Wednesday.
Further joint strikes by consultants and junior doctors are planned for October.
Consultants are pushing for an above-inflation pay award this year — inflation was running at around 11 percent in April — while junior doctors have asked for 35 percent.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, on the other hand, has instructed doctors to end their strike and warned that the government will no longer negotiate greater pay.
He stated that the administration had accepted suggestions from independent pay review committees for compensation increases in the public sector ranging from 5.0 to 7.0 percent.
Junior physicians have gone on strike six times since March. Since July, consultants have walked out three times.
They are just the latest group — from train drivers to attorneys — to go on strike in the UK as inflation has skyrocketed, sending food, housing, and other costs skyrocketing.
Nurses and ambulance personnel also went on strike, eventually agreeing to a 5% salary increase in May.