Hospital patients in Sunderland could face delays in treatment following the news that junior doctors have voted to strike in a row over a new contract due to come into effect next year.
Following a ballot of more than 37,000 junior doctors, more than 99 per cent have voted in favour of industrial action short of a strike, and 98 per cent for full strike action.
The British Medical Association (BMA) says it regrets the inevitable disruption that the action will cause.
Chiefs say that junior doctors have been left with no alternative due to the Government’s intention to impose a contract that is “unsafe for patients and unfair for doctors”.
The first walk-out will start on December 1 with another two dates earmarked for later in the month.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the doctors’ decision was “very, very disappointing” news.
Bosses at City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust today moved to reassure patients and the public although admitted some admissions could be postponed.
A spokeswoman said: “The trust, in line with the whole NHS, has tried and tested plans to deal with a range of disruptions, including industrial action, and we are reviewing these plans in light of the national junior doctor ballot results.
“At this point in time we are unclear how many junior doctors in the trust will participate in strike action.
“We will be doing everything we can to minimise the impact on our patients but inevitably it may mean that some planned admissions are postponed and those in less urgent need of care may experience longer waiting times than normal.
“In all cases, priority will be given to those patients with the most pressing health needs.”
The BMA say that the proposed action has been announced well in advance to allow employers to put in place plans to minimise disruption to staff and patients.
Dr Mark Porter, the BMA council chairman, said: “We regret the inevitable disruption that this will cause but it is the Government’s adamant insistence on imposing a contract that is unsafe for patients in the future, and unfair for doctors now and in the future, that has brought us to this point.
“Patients are doctors’ first priority, which is why, even with such a resounding mandate, we are keen to avert the need for industrial action, which is why we have approached Acas to offer conciliatory talks with the Health Secretary and NHS Employers to clarify the conflicting information coming from government over the past weeks.
“The Health Secretary is right when he says that this action is ‘wholly avoidable’.
“Our message to him is that junior doctors have today made their views perfectly clear but that it is still possible to get back around the negotiating table to deliver a contract that is safe for patients, contains the necessary contractual safeguards to prevent junior doctors being overworked and properly recognises evening and weekend work.”