NHS bosses and watchdogs have warned hospitals that staff may have to “depart from established procedures” to care for other patients this winter.
In a letter revealed today, medical and regulatory chiefs told hospital bosses that should NHS staff have to exit procedures to fulfil other duties during heightened hospital admissions, that watchdogs will consider the “context” in which they are working if they are referred to the regulator.
The letter, which includes the UK’s chief nursing officers and Dr Sean O’Kelly, the chief inspector of hospitals care quality commission, said: “In such challenging times, when you may need to depart from established procedures to care for people, we understand some could be fearful that they will be referred to your regulator.
“In the unlikely event that you are referred to your professional regulator, they will consider the context you were working in a the time.”
The NHS is expected to face yet another bleak winter this year, as rising energy costs make it harder for millions to heat their homes.
Just last week, nurses across the UK voted to strike before the end of the year, in the first walkout of its kind.
The strike will impact operations at some of the biggest hospitals in the country, including Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals in London.
Some serious cases of cancer could still be treated, while urgent diagnostic procedures and assessments will be staffed if they are needed to gather data on potentially life-threatening conditions, or those that could lead to permanent disability.
Chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union, Pat Cullen, said: “This is a defining moment in our history, and our fight will continue through strike action and beyond for as long as it takes to win justice for the nursing profession and our patients.
“Anger has become action – our members are saying enough is enough. The voice of nursing in the UK is strong and I will make sure it is heard. Our members will no longer tolerate a financial knife-edge at home and a raw deal at work.”