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Consultation launched on minimum service levels in hospitals during strikes

Minimum service levels (MSLs) could be introduced by the government requiring some doctors and nurses to work during strikes.

Minimum service levels (MSLs) could be introduced by the government requiring some doctors and nurses to work during strikes, in order to protect patient safety, the Health and Social Care Secretary has announced.

A consultation has been launched to consider introducing MSLs that would cover urgent, emergency and time-critical hospital-based health services – which could cover hospital staff including nurses and doctors – and seeks views on a set of principles for setting MSLs in regulations.

It will also seek evidence to inform decisions on the expansion and scope of MSLs. This follows the consultation earlier this year on introducing minimum service levels in ambulance services and brings the UK in line with countries like France and Italy whose services continue in times of industrial action.

While voluntary agreements between employers and trade unions can be agreed ahead of time, they can lead to inconsistency across the country, come with significant uncertainty as they are based on goodwill and are not always honoured or communicated in sufficient time. This creates an unnecessary risk to patient safety.

The government says MSLs will provide a better balance between supporting the ability of workers to strike with the safety of the public, who expect vital services to be there when they need them. They will ensure that essential and time-critical care can continue during periods of strike action, for those who need care the most. The government could introduce MSLs in key hospital-based services next year.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “This week’s co-ordinated and calculated strike action will create further disruption and misery for patients and NHS colleagues. My top priority is to protect patients and these regulations would provide a safety net for trusts and an assurance to the public that vital health services will be there when they need them.”


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