Doctors could be forced to work on strike days under government plans to introduce minimum safe staffing levels in hospitals.
The Department of Health is launching a consultation on extending recent legislation to cover more healthcare workers as consultants begin a two-day strike today.
Consultants have so far this year held four days of industrial action and junior doctors 19 days.
Junior doctors will start their next three-day strike tomorrow, meaning they will walk out at the same time as consultants for the first time.
Health leaders have expressed concerns about the ‘nightmare scenario’ and revealed some patients are now having operations postponed two or more times due to industrial action, including growing numbers with cancer.
Junior doctors hold placards during a strike, amid a dispute with the government over pay, in London on April 11 (file photo)
Strikes have so far cost the NHS around £1billion and the number of cancelled appointments and operations is expected to hit one million by the end of this week.
The consultation considers introducing minimum service levels that would cover ‘urgent, emergency and time-critical hospital-based health services’.
It follows a consultation earlier this year on introducing minimum service levels in ambulance services, and would bring the UK in line with countries such as France and Italy whose services continue in times of industrial action.
Ministers believe minimum service levels will provide a better balance between supporting the ability of workers to strike with the safety of the public.
Consultants and junior doctors will walk out together again on October 2, 3 and 4, which coincides with the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
File photo dated from January 18 this years, of a general view of staff on a NHS hospital ward
The NHS is expected to see a ‘Christmas Day’ level of staffing when both groups are off, with emergency care as priority.
The Government has given a 6 per cent pay rise to consultants and the same plus a lump sum of £1,250 for junior doctors, and has said there will be no further offers.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: ‘Strikes can’t become the status quo. Only the Government sitting down with the unions can end this disruption.’