Hospitals and health services across Surrey are bracing themselves for the longest “and most difficult” strike in NHS history.

Junior doctors, who make up about half of the medical workforce,  will walk out for six consecutive days starting Wednesday, January 3, after negotiations broke down following the Government’s offer.

Health chiefs are warning people to expect significant disruption as urgent, emergency, trauma, maternity and critical care are prioritised during the work stoppages over routine and scheduled appointments.

It comes as hospital services are already stretched with the NHS experiencing one of its busiest periods.

In December, Royal Surrey County Hospital issued a plea to only attend in cases of life-threatening situations or serious injury after its accident and emergency department reported its busiest ever day.

Matt Jarratt, chief operating officer at Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our junior doctors have our full support, whether they choose to participate in industrial action or not. 

“But we know this strike action will put more pressure on frontline services and our staff, who are already working incredibly hard.

“We are again asking members of the public for their support in using services responsibly and appropriately, thereby helping us keep our emergency departments and 999 for those who need them most. 

“We are also asking people to be patient, particularly if services are busier and waits are longer than usual or if outpatient or planned procedures need to be rearranged, as our frontline teams prioritise critical services and work hard to make sure people get the care they need.” 

The long-running dispute has meant hospital trusts have developed emergency plans to cover disruption but the timing has made this walkout even more challenging.

Dr Charlotte Canniff, joint chief medical officer for Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership and Surrey GP said: “We have well-rehearsed plans in place to manage these periods of disruption, working together across health and care organisations. 

“However, due to the timing, and with this being the longest period of planned industrial action the NHS has ever seen – taking place over six consecutive days – we expect this to be the most difficult period of action yet.

“During the last period of strike action, just before Christmas, at its peak, on December 21 we saw 497 junior doctors from Surrey Heartlands taking part in planned action. 

“With junior doctors making up around half of all doctors, a reduction of this scale has a significant impact on the services our frontline teams can continue to provide – so we do expect significant disruption to routine appointments and planned procedures as we prioritise urgent, emergency, trauma, maternity and critical care for those who need us most.:”

Dr Rob Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, are the co-chairs of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors committee.

In a joint statement, they said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that we’ve had to call this strike – no doctor ever wants to have to take industrial action.

“Junior doctors face the brunt of the decade of underinvestment that has undermined the NHS frontline. 

“The record-high waiting list and chronic lack of resource are pushing many talented doctors to the brink; as a profession we are exhausted, disenchanted, and questioning whether we want to stay in the health service at all. Add to this years of pay erosion, and it’s no wonder that morale on the frontline has never been lower.

“Patient safety is our top priority at all times, including during strike action, which is why we not only give trusts adequate notice to arrange appropriate cover, but also have an established process with NHS England, which we have successfully used over the previous eight rounds of strike action, to constantly review staffing levels and act appropriately, including derogating staff back to work when absolutely necessary.

“Of course, these strikes don’t have to happen. We’ve been clear that it is the government that cancelled talks and we would still at this late hour encourage Government to put forward a credible offer so that we can stop this strike and get back to doing what we really want to do – care for patients.”

Junior doctors in England will be taking strike action from 7am on Wednesday, January 3 until 7am on Tuesday, January 9.

The NHS will prioritise urgent and emergency care as consultants cover for junior doctors, but has said people should continue using urgent medical services as normal.

For minor problems, general practices, community pharmacies, and dentists are not expected to be affected.

Dr Timothy Ho, chief medical officer, Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “These strikes come at a time that will cause huge disruption to the NHS, with services already feeling the strain of winter pressure.

“All health and care partners are working together, and we have drawn up contingency plans but we are concerned as this round of industrial action will see junior doctors on strike for six days. 

“We are working closely with partners to ensure we prioritise urgent and emergency care for patients, but we do need the public to continue to support us and use the right health service to meet their needs.

“Routine appointments may be rescheduled. If you have not been contacted by the Trust, we would advise that you attend your appointment as planned, but please continue to check for updates.”