Published: 00:00, 26 April 2016
Consultants and nurses are braced to fill the breach at Darent Valley Hospital today, when junior doctors walk out for the first time from Accident and Emergency units in a strike lasting 48 hours.
The hospital is advising patients to only attend A&E if they require emergency treatment and, if not life-threatening, to see their GP, a pharmacist or attend the NHS Walk-in Centre in Northfleet, or the Minor Injury Unit in Gravesend.
“We have closely reviewed the staffing levels in the areas where junior doctors have indicated they wish to join the industrial action and we have reorganised our clinical cover accordingly,” said the hospital.
The ambulance service also issued a message advising people to “think carefully about dialling 999” during the strike period.
South East Coast Ambulance said: “We will be looking to make best use of our clinicians in our control centres to advise patients, working with our health partners in the community to delay, where appropriate, the transfer of patients to hospital and where possible seek alternative pathways such as minor injuries units as and when necessary.”
Disruption across England will also affect withdrawal of labour from urgent maternity services, resuscitation and mental health crisis teams.
The action takes place between 8am and 5pm on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
As the dispute escalates, the British Medical Association (BMA) has not dismissed staging a permanent junior doctors’ strike and mass resignations as a means of stepping up their action, including a permanent walkout.
Their chairman Mark Porter said: “There is a lot of discussion among junior doctors about what steps might be taken if the government fails to respond to the industrial action this week, and no decisions have yet been taken which means they are all possible, but that doesn’t mean they are all likely or are going to happen.”
Meanwhile Darent Valley Hospital announced that “maintaining a high quality, safe service, will always be our number one priority.”
It said in a statement: “Consultant and senior grade doctors will be working with matrons and nursing staff to continue to provide hospital services to patients during the strike action.
“Patients should attend their appointments at the date and time specified unless they have been informed otherwise.”
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson (Con) said: “I hope we can find a resolution to this because there is no reduction in junior doctors' pay or any increase in the time they are expected to work so the inconvenience to patients is very regrettable.”