Birmingham & Black Country

Sandwell Hospital withdraws request for striking doctors to return to work

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Media captionJunior doctors say Sandwell Hospital's 'level 4 incident' is not valid

A hospital that ordered its junior doctors to return to work as thousands more went on strike across England has withdrawn the request, bosses say.

Sandwell Hospital in West Bromwich declared a "level 4" incident after a "very high" number of admissions.

The British Medical Association (BMA) had advised members to continue with industrial action for the time being.

However, Toby Lewis, hospital chief executive, said it had now been agreed with the BMA to "stand down" the plea.

The hospital had decided to require trainee doctors due on shift to attend as normal during the 24-hour strike, which started at 0800 GMT.

Junior doctors' strike: Live updates

In a statement, Mr Lewis said the hospital had been able to safely discharge a larger number of patients and services were now "safe for tonight and tomorrow".

"We have agreed with the LNC chair [local negotiating chair from the BMA] to stand down the request to some trainee doctors at Sandwell Hospital to come in and provide additional assistance.

"We will keep this situation under review," he said.

Image caption Junior doctors are striking at Sandwell General Hospital

The hospital is run by Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust.

It comes as the first strike by junior doctors in 40 years is under way in a row over a new contract.

About 100 picket lines have been put in place, with a large concentration in and around London.

Image caption Junior doctor Louise Roper said the letter recalling staff was "not valid"
Image caption The BBC's Black Country political reporter Rob Mayor said junior doctors left the picket to check the wards but came back when they saw empty beds

Anne Rainsberry, national incident director for NHS England, said: "The local NHS is actively reviewing the situation to support the Trust. Nationally, we are continuing to work closely with our BMA colleagues to ensure patient safety."

The BMA had said members should only stop their strike if "NHS England has confirmed and the BMA has agreed - via the agreed escalation process - that a major unpredictable incident is taking place for a specific Trust".

The BBC has seen a letter sent to doctors in training from Sandwell hospital trust medical director Dr Roger Stedman dated 11 January which said there had been a "surge" in the number of patients with not enough being discharged.

But junior doctors on the picket line there told BBC News the request to them to come into work was not done through the proper channels.

Junior doctor Louise Roper said: "The letter they've sent out is asking people to come in because of an internal incident which they have not escalated via NHS England or the BMA so on a day of industrial action that letter isn't valid to recall doctors."

Image caption At the scene: Phil Mackie

Analysis: Sandwell Hospital's 'level 4 incident'

BBC Midlands correspondent Phil Mackie

"The junior doctors came out on strike at about 08:00 this morning and were there when they received an email saying they should come back to work because of a 'level 4 incident'.

We've received more clarification, and what the junior doctors and the BMA have said is that this isn't an unexpected breaking incident, it's what we would normally refer to as 'winter pressures' - lots of people turning up, as they tend to do at this time of the year, and there are a lot of people who are fit to be discharged but care packages aren't in place - what we refer to as 'bed blocking'.

Therefore the BMA said the doctors would not go back into work. They have not abandoned the strike and they have not gone back to work.

They are no longer at the picket line because they have gone to a different event in Birmingham.

What the junior doctors agreed to go back in for would be something like a serious trauma - for example a multi-car pileup on the M6 - something where they need bodies on the ground to help save lives.

That isn't the case here.

A junior doctor who received the letter told the BBC: "Over the past few days, our medical director Dr Roger Stedman never outlined that this hospital was facing a major incident level 4 and to top it all off, he sent us a letter this morning at 08:15 GMT which was actually dated the 11 January.

"If this was a major incident the trust has been facing as per the letter ''over the past few days'' why wait until now?"

Image caption A letter sent to junior doctors said there had been a surge in activity at Sandwell Hospital "over the past few days"

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