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Feature Industrial Action

Junior doctors strike: What consultants learnt from holding the fort

BMJ 2023 ; 380 doi: (Published 22 March 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;380:p644
  1. Emma Wilkinson , freelance journalist
  1. Sheffield
  1. emmalwilkinson{at}

How did consultants, other non-striking doctors, and staff maintain services last week—and did the experience offer any lessons for the future? Emma Wilkinson reports

While thousands of junior doctors picketed outside hospitals last week during the three day strike action, consultants and other members of the team held the fort, in some cases doing tasks they hadn’t done for a decade or more. On one level the NHS did keep running, patients were seen, decisions were made—some have noted, more quickly than usual—but elective care had to be cancelled, and hospitals were forced to throw many resources at the problem.

Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, says that the full extent of the disruption is still emerging but that it’s “very clear” that this must not happen again, for the sake of patients and staff.

“There is a very real human cost for patients in terms of treatment deferred, pain prolonged, and continuing uncertainty,” he says. “Consultants and other staff have stepped into the breach. But the NHS was already overstretched. Morale is slipping and staff are exhausted.” He adds that paying for strike cover has diverted resources from other priorities.

Vicky Barradell, consultant in the care of older people at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, says that things ran “incredibly smoothly” but only because so many consultants and advanced clinical practitioners “pulled out all the stops.” No bed waits or delays were seen, but most elective activity was cancelled—“and there may well be consequences down the line,” she explains. “We recognise that huge decline …

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