A&Es across the country saw their busiest day of the year on the first day of the junior doctors’ strike with some urgent patients waiting hours for an ambulance, NHS leaders have warned.
National medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said some hospital emergency departments recorded their busiest ever Monday, while several senior sources said internal data showed it was the busiest day of the year overall.
NHS sources said that limited staffing levels during the first of a three-day strike over pay had led to ambulance response and handover delays, with one source in the southwest claiming suspected stroke and heart attack patients were waiting up to three hours for an ambulance.
Another senior source in London said dozens of ambulances waited more than two hours outside hospitals – although this is less than waits seen during January.
The high demand on Monday comes after leaders reported lower levels of patients attending hospital when compared to previous strikes by nurses and ambulance workers.
On Friday, The Independent revealed that lifesaving surgeries and urgent cancer operations would be hit by the strikes.
In a statement on Tuesday, St George’s, Epsom and St Helier’s Hospital Group said it saw 1,000 patients attend its A&Es on Monday.
It said: “This high demand – the equivalent of roughly one person every 90 seconds – came during an already-challenging period for the hospital group, as junior doctors started their first day of 72-hour strike action.
For Epsom and St Helier, it was only the second time in 2023 the trust had surpassed 500 attendances in its emergency departments on a Monday, while the 475 attendances at St George’s was the second busiest Monday this year.
Hull University Hospitals said it had 400 people in its department on Monday.
Dr Biju Cherian, a consultant in emergency medicine for the trust, said: “Mondays are always our busiest day in the emergency department, but unlike the recent ambulance strikes where there have been notable reductions in calls to the service on some strike days, the number of people attending for emergency care has remained very similar to a normal working day.
NHS national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said emergency departments remained under “severe pressure” on Monday and it was prioritising urgent and critical care.
He said: “Some hospitals even saw their busiest Monday of the year so far for A&E attendance as the strike got underway yesterday, which presents a major challenge as our staff continue to do all they can to mitigate the impact of the industrial action for patients.
“As we see the impact of the most significant strike disruption in the history of the NHS, we’re really grateful to the public for using services appropriately.
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