UK Junior Doctor Strikes 'Hit Patient Care'

Peter Russell

February 23, 2018

A series of strikes by junior doctors in England in 2016 had a "significant" impact on healthcare for patients, according to a study.

The research in the journal BMJ Open found that industrial action led to thousands of appointments being cancelled, significantly fewer hospital admissions, and cuts to the number of people being seen in accident and emergency (A&E) departments.

The effects were greatest when junior doctors withdrew emergency care.

Overall, the strikes led to a small but not statistically significant increase in the overall death rate, the researchers say.

The 4 strikes lasted between 24 and 48 hours and took place between 12th January and the 27th April.

Only the last strike resulted in junior doctors withdrawing cover for emergency care, an action that led to consultants being drafted in to cover for 48 hours.

Fewer Admissions and Outpatient Appointments

During the 12 weeks analysed, there were 3.4 million hospital admissions, 27 million outpatient appointments, and 3.4 million attendances at A&E departments.

When researchers compared these figures to previous weeks they found that:

· Admissions were down 9.1%

· A&E attendances were down 6.8%

· Outpatient appointments fell by 6%

The biggest impact on the NHS was seen in the last strike where junior doctors withdrew emergency care cover. This led to:

· A 15.4% cut in admissions

· A 14.7% cut in A&E attendances

· An 11.1% drop in outpatient appointments

The number of outpatient appointments cancelled by hospitals also rose by around 67%, the study found.

Strike deaths

The strikes saw an increase in the death rate of 2% overall. However, there was a 9.75% rise in the number of people dying during A&E care.

The researchers say they did not assess the impact of the strikes on patients who did not attend A&E, nor the potential impact on the so-called 'weekend effect' which has been linked to higher death rates.

However, they conclude: "Industrial action by junior doctors during early 2016 caused a significant impact on the provision of healthcare provided by English hospitals."

SOURCES:

Retrospective analysis of the national impact of industrial action by English junior doctors in 2016, Furnivall D et al, BMJ Open

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