Last-ditch plea over NHS action
Ministers and NHS leaders have made last-ditch pleas to persuade doctors to call off a day of industrial action.
Medics across the UK are due to boycott non-urgent care on Thursday in a dispute over pensions, as they take action for the first time since 1975.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley called the industrial action "pointless", while NHS Employers predicted patients would suffer.
But union leaders said they had been forced into the move.
The industrial action is due to start at midnight.
The British Medical Association has always maintained doctors would fulfil all emergency and urgent care duties.
That means accident and emergency units and maternity services will remain open.
Urgent tests will also be done and GPs will still see patients in emergencies.
But the action could disrupt routine hospital appointments, non-emergency surgery, such as knee and hip operations, and pre-booked GP visits.
Many patients have already been told their appointments have been rearranged.
What it means for patients
- The NHS is advising patients who need help in an emergency to use the service as they normally would.
- Accident and emergency units will remain open, while mothers in labour will be able to go to maternity departments.
- Appointments for urgent tests, such as for cancer, should also continue.
- Routine appointments and operations could be affected.
- Hospitals should already have alerted some patients their care has been rearranged.
- Appointments could be cancelled on the day as doctors do not have to tell their employers they are taking action.
- GP surgeries will be open and take emergency appointments. Patients are being told to ring up for even seemingly run-of-the-mill ailments like colds.
- Advanced GP appointments for things such as medicine reviews or follow-ups are likely to have been cancelled by doctors taking part.
- Dentists are not involved and so services will run as normal.
But it is likely there will be last-minute cancellations as doctors do not have to tell their employers they are taking action.'Deeply concerned'
Many NHS trusts the BBC talked to were predicting disruption would be kept to a minimum.
But NHS Employers ramped up the pressure on doctors on the eve of the strike by suggesting emergency services could buckle under the strain.
Fears have been raised the action could create problems discharging patients from hospital beds or a surge in demand because patients cannot or think they cannot get care elsewhere.
NHS Employers director Dean Royles said: "We are deeply concerned about the distress it will cause patients as well as the anxiety it will cause to many of our staff who want to ensure their patients are not put at risk.
"We will find out whether the plans to protect urgent and emergency care that employers have been working on can hold up."
Mr Lansley said: "I want to call on doctors again to think again before taking part in a strike that will be damaging for patients.
"Let me be clear - the strike is pointless. It will achieve nothing.
"We will implement this pension deal which is a fair and sustainable deal for NHS workers."
The health secretary also tried to undermine the action by highlighting what the government believes could happen if the pension scheme remains unchanged.
He said if it was left unchanged nurses could find their take home pay fall by £100 per month to cover the shortfall.
But BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum hit back, accusing the health secretary of being "blatantly misleading".
He said the profession had been driven to taking action because ministers were unwilling to listen.
"This is not good for doctors, for government or, most importantly of all, for patients and the NHS.
"The facts are that the NHS scheme was extensively reformed in 2008 to make it sustainable for the future."