Hospitals in England have coped well with the all-out strike by junior doctors – the first in the history of the NHS – health bosses are reporting.
Junior doctors walked out at 08:00 BST on Tuesday, returning at 17:00 BST. A second day of strike action is due to begin at 08:00 BST on Wednesday.
A number of hospitals told the BBC services had run smoothly – with some saying they were quieter than normal.
But there are fears demand could surge once the strikes are over.
Meanwhile, figures released by NHS England showed 78% of junior doctors due in work did not turn up.
NHS England’s Dr Anne Rainsberry praised the hard-work of staff who provided care.
“This is an unprecedented situation and staff across the NHS have made herculean efforts to ensure continued safe services for patients, which is always our top priority.”
In preparation for the stoppage, hospitals cancelled more than 100,000 routine appointments and nearly 13,000 non-emergency operations.
This has allowed them to redeploy consultants, middle-grade doctors and nurses into emergency services, such as accident and emergency, maternity and intensive care units.
GPs were also asked to keep more appointments than normal free for last-minute urgent calls, and NHS 111 staffing has been boosted to allow it to deal with extra calls.
NHS England had likened it to planning a “military” operation.
The planning seems to have worked, with no hospital triggering an emergency escalation procedure that would allow them, via the NHS England and the British Medical Association, to call striking junior doctors back into work if they felt they could not cope.
Ipswich Hospital chief executive Nick Hulme said his trust had been coping well – and more doctors than expected had come into work, 23 out of 122, suggesting an all-out strike had been a “step too far” for some.
But he said both sides needed to come back together to resolve the dispute “quickly”, saying it was getting “really difficult” for the NHS to cope with the backlog of postponed operations.
Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust reported everything was “running smoothly” during the final hours of the walkout, while Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said it had not seen “undue pressure”, although it did “anticipate a surge in demand” once the strikes were over.
On Tuesday afternoon, Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey said: “Our services are not under undue pressure so far. Contingency plans are going smoothly.”
Dr Cliff Mann, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said demand at his hospital trust – Taunton and Somerset – had been quieter than normal and he was “absolutely” sure lives had not been put at risk because of the cover provided by other doctors and nurses.
Earlier, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the walkout was a “very, very bleak day” for the NHS, but once again stressed the government would not back down, saying no union had the right to stop a government trying to act on a manifesto promise.
Wednesday’s walkout also lasts from 08:00 BST to 17:00 BST.
The dispute is over a new contract that the government announced in February would be imposed from the summer. This followed the breakdown of talks between the two sides in January.
The contract makes it cheaper to rota doctors on at weekends – something ministers say is needed to improve care on a Saturday and Sunday.
The BMA has argued it is unfair and the NHS needs extra investment to pay for seven-day services.
Before this week’s strikes, there had been four walkouts but all involved emergency care being covered by junior doctors.
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