However, other walkouts will be taking place this week – including action by junior doctors.
The NHS has raised concern that medics may not honour an agreement to abandon picket lines if hospitals become overwhelmed.
Hospital bosses can ask the British Medical Association (BMA) to allow junior doctors to return to work to help if an emergency takes place during their strike but health trust leaders are concerned that the doctors’ union could reject these “recall requests” – or take a long time to consider them.
The NHS is under even more pressure due to a spike in cases of flu, Covid, and norovirus this week.
The NHS Confederation, which represents trusts, urged the BMA to ensure the “recall system” worked reliably if it was triggered.
“With the next round of junior doctors' strikes coinciding with what is always an exceptionally busy week for the NHS, health leaders hope that escalation plans run smoothly and with a shared understanding that protecting patient safety is the most important priority,” Danny Mortimer, the confederation’s deputy chief executive, said.
“There was a clear preference for agreed derogations for key services. But in their absence, if local organisations [NHS trusts] feel the strikes are directly and significantly compromising patient safety, they need assurances this will be understood and acted upon swiftly by the BMA in allowing the striking doctors to temporarily return to work,” Mortimer added.
“We have given trusts enough notice and expect hospitals to have planned staffing for urgent, emergency, and critical care services during strike action,” a BMA spokesperson said.
“There is a well-established process for requesting derogations, which includes the recall of staff in a mass casualty event, and we take account for alternative sources of staffing. But derogations should be a last resort. We will continue to work with trusts to ensure the process of derogation requests is fair and properly followed, whilst also protecting doctors’ ability to strike.”
Junior doctors planned nine days in total: three days from 7am on December 20 to 7am on December 23, and from 7am on January 3 to 7am on January 9. The upcoming January walk-out will be the longest in the NHS's history, according to the BMA, and will coincide with what is traditionally one of the NHS's busiest periods.
The breakdown in talks comes after five weeks of negotiations during which industrial action had been suspended.
Junior doctors’ strike
Junior doctors in England are staging more strikes in January after rejecting a pay offer put forward in talks with the Government. They will walk out from 7am on January 3 to 7am on January 9. The strike in January is six full days, which the union called the longest single period of industrial action in the history of the health service.
The BMA said the Government’s proposal was worth an extra three per cent on average this year. This is on top of an 8.8 per cent rise already given.
Ministers and representatives from the BMA have been locked in negotiations for five weeks, trying to find a resolution to the pay dispute. The BMA wants a 35 per cent pay uplift, to make up for what it said have been below-inflation rises since 2008.
Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, who co-chair the BMA junior doctors' committee, said: "We have been clear from the outset of these talks that we needed to move at pace – and, if we did not have a credible offer, we would be forced to call strikes.
Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said it was disappointing junior doctor leaders had walked away from negotiations.
"The new strikes will result in more disruption for patients and extra pressure on NHS services and staff as we enter a busy winter period, risking patient safety," she said.
Following strikes from the Aslef union at the start of December, there are currently no further strikes confirmed for the UK’s rail network.
Aslef's train drivers staged several strikes and overtime bans in December in a long-running dispute over pay. Aslef had hoped the new walkouts would "ratchet up the pressure" on train companies and the Government to give train drivers their first pay rise in more than four years.