More than 175,000 patient appointments and procedures had to be canceled in England when junior doctors went on strike this week, figures show.
That makes it the most disruptive NHS strike so far this winter.
Tens of thousands of doctors participated in the 72-hour strike, with more senior hospital colleagues asked to provide cover.
Young doctors’ representatives at the British Medical Association (BMA) have now accepted an offer to enter into wage negotiations with the government.
The BMA said it would not announce another strike while negotiations were underway.
While emergency care was provided by consultants during the strike, many planned, non-urgent treatments were rescheduled.
prof. Sir Stephen Powis, Medical Director of NHS England, said: “Despite the huge efforts made by NHS staff to protect patients and keep disruption to a minimum, this strike was of an unprecedented scale and had an impact greater than any other industry actions we’ve seen so far. combined this winter.
“More than 175,000 appointments and procedures have been rescheduled to protect urgent, critical and urgent care for patients, which will inevitably impact efforts to address the Covid backlog.”
Some of the postponed appointments and procedures include hip and knee surgeries, as well as routine checkups for patients with conditions such as diabetes and even cancer.
The NHS has been trying to tackle a backlog exacerbated by Covid – there are still 7.2 million people on waiting lists for treatment in England.
Nurses, paramedics and physios have also been on strike this winter, but have now paused action pending a pay offer from the government.
The Department of Health and Social Care said it deeply regretted the cancellation of appointments but was “gratified” that the BMA had agreed to enter talks, on the same terms as the unions representing the other NHS workers.
It added that the government was seeking a “fair settlement that recognizes the crucial role of junior doctors and the wider economic pressures facing the UK”.
The BMA said it had sent a letter to Health Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday following the government’s new pay offer to other NHS workers, proposing to meet next week.
In a Twitter post the BMA said its aim was to achieve full wage recovery, adding it would enter into negotiations “in good faith”.
The BMA is calling for a 35% pay rise for junior doctors, arguing it would reverse 15 years of cuts.
Young doctors represent almost half of the medical workforce in England and include those who have just graduated from university, to some with 10 years’ experience.
Two-thirds of physician assistants are members of the BMA.
At least 86,000 were involved in union action this week, according to the latest figures.
Dr. Vivek Trivedi and Dr Rob Laurenson, the co-chairs of the BMA’s committee on junior doctors, said: “Every day, junior doctors despair as they see surgeries canceled and treatments delayed for the millions on waiting lists as our health services are in crisis.
“However, the rescheduling of appointments as a result of the strike action could have been avoided if the Health Minister had come to the table and negotiated an agreed settlement with us before any strike action was taken.
“The NHS had more than two months’ notice that we would strike for 72 hours if the vote was successful; the government has had no doubts about our campaign for full wage recovery for more than six months and this is confirmed by the number of doctors in training in England who took part in the industrial action.”