JUNIOR doctor strikes next week will pile further strain on the NHS as it struggles with record waiting lists, health bosses warn.
Some 7.2million patients in England — the highest ever figure — were waiting for operations in January, health service data shows as the effects of months of industrial action took hold.
Nearly half of cancer patients did not start treatment within two months of a referral for the first time since records began.
Despite other unions halting further action as they sit down for pay talks with No10, British Medical Association (BMA) trainee medics have planned a 72-hour walkout from Monday.
Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “It is inevitable that the junior doctors strikes will have a significant impact on cancer care and routine operations.”
The strike will see junior doctors walk out of both routine and emergency care at hospitals across England.
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A&E, maternity and cancer services will not be covered by the trainee medics over the three days, with the number of surgery cancellations expected to dwarf previous strikes.
Senior BMA consultants also threatened to strike later in spring after more than 17,000 voted in favour of industrial action on Monday.
Meanwhile, unions representing nurses, ambulance staff, physiotherapists and NHS cleaners and porters are continuing to hold “constructive” talks with the Government.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “These talks will continue into next week.”
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The number of patients on NHS waiting lists is now more than 64 per cent higher than before the Covid pandemic, the latest figures show.
Nearly 380,000 have been waiting at least a year.
Longer waits have seen some progress, however, with just under 33,000 waiting more than 18 months for routine ops like hip and knee replacements, down from 55,000 in December.
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive at NHS Providers said: “Despite the reduction in 18-month waits, relentless pressure on the health service threatens recovery.”
Cancer waits for treatment within two months of diagnosis also plummeted to record lows, with the NHS aiming to see at least 85 percent of patients in that time frame.
Just over two thirds of patients with suspected cancer were either diagnosed or cleared for the disease within 28 days, the second lowest figure on record.
Minesh Patel, of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “It is deeply concerning to see performance against cancer waiting times in England drop to new lows.”
It comes after the NHS annual staff survey showed less than two thirds of workers are happy with the standard of care provided by the health service.
The poll of more than 600,000 staff found almost one in three staff “often think about leaving”.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “Record numbers of patients are waiting for treatment and putting their lives on pause.
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“NHS staff are slogging their guts out, but there simply aren't enough of them.
“Staff are exasperated by how overstretched they are, and one in three wouldn't be happy for their family to be treated by their service. We cannot go on like this.”
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