Industrial action by doctors hit a third of GP practices, it was claimed last night.
Across England, official figures showed 2,703 operations were postponed and 18,717 outpatient appointments rescheduled in the action – the first by doctors in four decades – over the Government’s controversial pension reforms.
Ministers said a significant majority of doctors had worked as usual but British Medical Association (BMA) chairman Hamish Meldrum said they had sent a “strong message” that a better deal on pensions must be found.
“Because doctors have been in their places of work as usual, it was always going to be difficult to put a figure on the number taking part – the Government’s figures need to be treated with extreme caution,” he said.
“Our feedback from the doctors co-ordinating the action on the ground indicates that in England up to a quarter of non-urgent cases have been postponed, and about a third of GP practices have been taking some form of action.
“Our intention has not been to maximise the impact on patients, but to communicate the scale of doctors’ anger and to encourage the Government back to the table.”
The Department of Health claimed just eight per cent of doctors working in England, or 11,500, had showed their support. It said 2,000 out of 6,000 GP surgeries had at least one member of staff taking part, with about 23 per cent affected in the North.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “We asked doctors to recognise that their quarrel was not with patients but with the Government. I am pleased that a significant majority of doctors have done just that and maintained services for their patients.
“But let us not forget that the consequence of the BMA’s decision to ask doctors to go on strike has been that thousands of patients who expected to have an operation or an appointment today have been inconvenienced or distressed by delay to their care.”
Ian Wilson, deputy chairman of the BMA’s consultant committee who was at work in Yorkshire yesterday but dealing only with urgent and emergency cases, apologised to patients affected.
“No doctor goes into medicine to do this,” he said. “It’s horrible, it’s awful. We are really sorry we have been put in this position.”
Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust said 14 operations and 146 outpatient appointments were cancelled due to the action.