THE medical director of North Cumbria Integrated Care Trust (NCIC) has warned of ‘dramatically reduced’ staff availability as the next round of strike action by senior doctors begins.

A 48-hour walk-out by British Medical Association (BMA) member consultants began on Tuesday, September 19 and will run until 7am on Thursday, September 21.

There will also be a 72-hour walk-out by BMA member junior doctors from 7am on Wednesday, September 20 until 7am on Saturday, September 23.

NHS teams across the region have been working ahead of the strike to understand the potential impact this may have and to put in place plans to reschedule appointments for patients, and prioritise urgent and emergency care services.

Dr Adrian Clements, medical director for NCIC, said: “During the strike period the availability of our senior medical staff will be stretched and the availability of staff that can see you will be dramatically reduced.

“There will be an impact on waiting times and discharges, however the team will maintain patient safety and make sure unwell patients are seen in a timely manner. There may be delays to be seen if you do not have a serious problem.  

"We are prioritising emergency and urgent care services, and we really need the public's help to only call 999 and attend emergency departments if it is a genuine life-threatening injury or illness.

"Patient safety is our main priority and while some outpatient clinics and planned surgery has had to be postponed, emergency care will be maintained.

“We are extremely grateful to everyone for their support and help; this period will be extremely difficult however we have plans in place to keep patients safe and staff supported.”

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The BMA has previously called for a 35 per cent pay rise for doctors which they say would make up for ‘15 years of below-inflation wage rises’ which has caused a ‘recruitment and retention crisis’ in the NHS.

Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said: “No consultant wants to be striking and we head out to picket lines today with heavy hearts.

“We would much rather be inside the hospital seeing our patients. But we cannot sit by and watch passively as we are persistently devalued, undermined and forced to watch colleagues leave – much to the detriment of the NHS and patients.”

Further strike action is scheduled for October with the government saying that their pay offer will not be improved.