‘Militant’ leaders of striking NHS junior doctors have been accused of prioritising politics over patient safety after figures showed excess deaths rose nearly three-fold following their strikes.
Data published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed a marked increase in the number of deaths above average in the fortnight during and following the British Medical Association’s (BMA) first round of industrial action.
More than 175,000 appointments and operations were cancelled when junior doctors went on strike from March 13 to 15, with many health experts saying the rise could be linked to the walkout.
Quoted in the Telegraph, a government source said: “The militant leaders of the BMA junior doctors committee seem willing to put politics above patient safety. They have adopted increasingly hardline tactics whilst demanding a completely unrealistic 35 per cent pay rise.
“They now need to stop the strikes and get serious by putting a much more realistic starting point for talks on the table.”
Read more: Nurses expected to strike again after pay deal vote
This data follows Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s vow that the Government will risk further short-term economic anguish as they continue to refuse to surrender to the pay demands from striking teachers and doctors.
The economy was shown by official figures to have stagnated in February after half a million teachers, lecturers and train drivers walked out over pay.
Adhering to the pay demands would be a “short-term fix” according to Mr Hunt, who said it would risk increasing the already “dangerously high” inflation.
The Chancellor said the 35 per cent pay rise demands from junior doctors were “very hard to justify given the current economic pressures”, and added that it was unlikely the dialogue between the Government and unions would be “fruitful” until public sector workers moderated their demands.
There were 22,021 deaths recorded in England between February 25 and March 10, which was 833 (or 3.9 per cent) higher than the five-year average figure.
However, 22,571 deaths were counted in the week of the strike and the one that followed, which was a 2,247 (or 11.1 per cent) increase on the average.
Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “It’s certainly plausible that [the strikes] would have contributed to [the rise in excess deaths].”
Excess mortality can also be hiked by whenever Easter falls between March and April, Mr Hunter added, as there are often delays on death registrations as a result.
Dr Charles Levinson, who works for private GP service DoctorCall, said: “Excess deaths remained consistently high throughout 2022 which, following a period of such increased death during the pandemic, is unexpected to say the least.
“In a period of such consistently high excess death and incredible strain on the system, attributing direct responsibility is impossible.
“But it’s clear that anything adding pressure to services will inevitably cause more delays and therefore more damage.”
He also asked the conflicting sides to “get around the negotiating table and come to a reasonable agreement”.
Experts have also said that flu cases, hospital admissions and the cold weather can also contribute to excess deaths.
Conservative MP for Peterborough Paul Bristow, who sits on the health select committee, said: “These statistics are alarming. It is certainly logical that if the NHS is offering fewer services and is less responsive as a result of industrial action, patients will suffer and excess deaths could occur.
“This is a reminder that medical professionals going on strike has very real consequences for patients.”
The junior doctors’ ongoing 96-hour strike will come to a conclusion on Saturday morning.