About a third of the consultants based at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals have joined the national strike for more pay - causing the greatest disruption to the local NHS.

The chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), Nick Hulme, said 950 outpatient appointments and hospital procedures had to be postponed during the 48-hour strike.

He said: "It looks as if about a third of the consultants across the two sites have gone on strike. 

"But we also have about a third on days off, on holiday, or on study leave so only about a third of consultants are working today."

The BMA said consultants would provide a "Christmas Day" level of cover over the two days to ensure care for emergencies and those needing life-saving ongoing care like cancer patients.

Mr Hulme said the figures for postponements could be an under-estimate. He said: "We have known where there would be gaps for six weeks now so we haven't been booking people in for outpatient clinics or for procedures on these days.

"So they will have been booked in at another time - and won't realise anything about it.

The consultants were vital to the whole running of the hospital: "You might see a junior doctor at an outpatient clinic, but that junior doctor has to be supervised by a consultant.

"If the junior doctor is there but there's no consultant on hand to supervise if necessary then the appointment can't go ahead.

"From that point of view the consultants's strike is the most disruptive we've had - you cannot go ahead with these kind of appointments without a consultant being available."

But the notice given by consultants and their commitment to work a Christmas Day-style shift ensured that the hospitals were able to continue to operate safely.

Mr Hulme said: "The only real difference you will see here today is far fewer people in the outpatients departments.

"We have contacted everyone whose appointment has been changed. If you have an appointment and you haven't heard from us, turn up as your invitation says."

He also emphasised that the Accident and Emergency Department was fully operational for those who really needed it.

Mr Hulme said: "Our advice is, as always, that if you can go anywhere else - to your GP, call NHS Direct on 111, or whatever that would probably be better for you.

"But if you really need Accident and Emergency we are there - even in some cases if you have to wait a bit longer to be treated."

The West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds said it would outline the effect of the strike on its services once consultants had returned to work and it had fully assessed how disruptive it had been.

More than 24,000 consultants voted in the British Medical Association (BMA) ballot for industrial action last month, with the vast majority (20,741 or 86%) voting in favour.

The Government has told consultants they will receive a 6% pay rise but the BMA has called this “derisory” and said doctors have seen real-term take-home pay fall by more than a third over the last 14 years.

According to the BMA, consultants on a 2003 contract earn a starting salary of £88,364 in basic pay, rising to £119,133 after around 19 years.

The Department of Health said extra payments such as clinical excellence awards and cash for being on call would take the average NHS pay for consultants in 2023/24 to around £134,000.