The NHS is asking patients to seek emergency care if they need to during industrial action and take simple steps to help ensure care is available to patients who need it most.
This includes using services wisely by going to NHS 111 online as the first port of call for health needs and continuing to call 999 in a life-threatening emergency.
General practice, community pharmacies, and dentistry are not impacted by strike action and the public should continue to access these services as needed on strike days.
Ambulance services will prioritise the most clinically urgent cases and on strike days if it is not life-threatening people may have to wait longer than usual for an ambulance. Where safe and appropriate, some may be asked to make their own way to hospital – although it is important that they get medical advice from 111 or 999 before doing so.
The NHS will contact anyone whose appointment has to be rescheduled due to strike action. If the NHS has not contacted you, it is important to attend appointments as planned.
This Wednesday ambulance workers will go on strike, with nurses also taking industrial action next Wednesday and Thursday. A further ambulance strike is scheduled later in the month on Monday 23 January.
In all cases, priority will be given to those patients with the most clinically urgent health needs.
NHS Medical Director For Secondary Care Vin Diwakar said: “The message from the NHS to patients is clear – if you need emergency care, please come forward.
“This means continuing to call 999 for life threatening emergencies as well as using 111 online for other health needs where you will receive clinical advice on the best next steps to take.
“NHS staff have worked hard to minimise disruption but it is inevitable there will be an impact on services.”
The NHS is already facing record demand on urgent and emergency care services – October and November were the busiest on record for A&E attendances and the most serious ambulance callouts.
The NHS has been preparing extensively for industrial action and for winter, with plans already in place to manage additional demand including 24/7 control centres, additional bed capacity, more mental health support for ambulance services and more community falls services.
Guidance issued ahead of the last industrial action by ambulance services asked local systems to discharge patients who are medically fit and asked that local areas only cancel elective procedures as a last resort.
The NHS has also launched the latest phase of a TV campaign encouraging the public to use NHS 111 online.
After entering answers about health needs online, the service makes an assessment and directs you to the best place for your care – this can include a consultation with a pharmacist, a call back from a nurse, or visiting a same day urgent treatment centre or A&E.
Figures show more than 6.5 million people used the NHS 111 online service in the last 12 months, with an average of 20,000 users being directed to the right support every day according to the latest data.
NHS England and local NHS areas have plans in place to ensure life-saving care continues and to minimise disruption to patient care.
Regional and national teams will support local areas needing any further assistance on strike days to help local areas coordinate responses.
In November NHS England issued guidance to local NHS employers on what derogations they should seek from local union representatives to ensure certain vital services such as chemotherapy continue.