Strikes by junior doctors will have a “significant impact” on NHS waiting times, a Suffolk hospital leader has said.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, has warned that the majority of pre-planned care would be cancelled on strike days.

The days the strikes will be held on have not yet been announced, but it is expected that the walkout will take place in mid-March.

Mr Hulme told LBC radio: "Clearly this is a significant shift in the industrial action now involving doctors, previously obviously nurses and paramedics.

"So it will mean that we will be in a position of cancelling an awful lot of our elective (planned) care.”

He added: "We won’t know exactly which doctors will come in on the day, they’re not mandated to inform us whether or not they’re going to strike so it’ll be an hour-by-hour assessment of risk, placing those doctors who come in into our highest risk areas, which will probably be those sort of 24/7 services of maternity, ICU, A&E, critical care and others.

"But that will mean that we won’t be able to provide most of our outpatients and our planned or elective operations."

Meanwhile, health minister Maria Caulfield said junior doctors’ pay demands are “unrealistic” and claimed that their strike action will “put patients at risk”.

East Anglian Daily Times: Health minister Maria CaulfieldHealth minister Maria Caulfield (Image: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

On Monday the British Medical Association (BMA) announced that its junior doctor members had voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking industrial action.

The action, which will include all doctors under consultant level, will last for 72 hours and the BMA said that it could possibly coincide with action taken by other health unions.

Dr Dan Poulter, a working NHS doctor and MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, called on the government and union to strike a deal to avert a walkout.

He said: "Whilst I personally understand why junior doctors are considering strike action, as a doctor myself, I would never strike, because I worry about the impact upon my patients. But it is important to recognise that many NHS workers are experiencing real financial hardship due to the ever-rising cost of living. 

"The four year pay deal remains in place until 31 March 2023, but this was agreed before the war in Ukraine, which has had a significant impact on inflation and the cost of living meaning that the current pay deal was made without reference to the single most significant factor affecting take home pay.

“I hope that the BMA and the government will be able to resolve this matter amicably so that strike action can be avoided."