Junior doctors’ strikes had ‘significant impact’ on care, study finds
But there was no obvious change in the death rate during the industrial action, researchers found.
Strikes by junior doctors had a “significant impact” on hospital care across England, new analysis has found.
The protracted row between training medics and the Government over a new contact came to an end in November 2016 when junior doctors called off the threat of future industrial action.
The dispute had already led to thousands of operations and appointments being cancelled across the NHS as medics in England staged a series of strikes during 2016.
Now fresh analysis of the dispute concludes that strikes resulted in “significant negative impacts on patient care” across English hospitals.
But there was no increase in the number of patient deaths, researchers found.
Experts from Imperial College London examined the impact of the walk-outs in the first four months of the year.
In each month, junior doctors from all specialities in England engaged in industrial action with a series of 24 or 48-hour strikes, culminating in a two-day strike that included the withdrawal of emergency services.
Researchers compared hospital activity during the week of each of the strikes with that from the preceding and following weeks.
Their study, published in the journal BMJ Open, focused on numbers of admissions, outpatient appointments and A&E attendances.
Across the four strikes, there were 31,651 fewer admissions, 23,895 fewer A&E attendances and 173,462 fewer outpatient appointments than usual.
Additionally, 101,109 more outpatient appointments were cancelled by hospitals than expected, they added.
But they found no “measurable change” in the number of deaths.
The 26–27 April strike, where emergency services were also affected, showed the largest impacts on regular service, the authors found.
They concluded: “The four junior doctors’ strikes between January and April 2016 resulted in significant negative impacts on patient care as measured by hospital activity.
“Significant increases in outpatient appointment cancellations by hospitals were paired with decreases in admitted patients and A&E visits.
“The major outcome we investigated was mortality, which showed no measurable change.”
They added: “Industrial action by junior doctors during early 2016 caused a significant impact on the provision of healthcare provided by English hospitals.”
But the authors added that they were unable to examine the health impacts on patients who could not attend hospitals due to industrial action.
Commenting on the study, a BMA spokeswoman said: “The decision to take industrial action was based on genuine concerns from junior doctors about the impact of proposed changes on patient care.
“In recent weeks we’ve seen large numbers of patients being affected by the cancellation of operations because the health service is unable to cope with demand. This highlights the scale of the pressure the NHS is operating under, which was a key concern of junior doctors during the dispute.”