Medical chiefs have called for a third party to broker talks between junior doctors and the Government.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges urged both parties to “rapidly engage with an independent organisation to work out how the deadlock can be broken for the sake of patients and the wider NHS”.
It comes as health chiefs fear the prospect of unions including the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) co-ordinating strikes or holding them in sequence, which would have a massive impact on the NHS.
Ambulance workers from Unite announced on Wednesday they would walk out alongside nurses and teachers on May 2.
An RCN nurse strike is already scheduled from April 30 to May 2 following a ballot which rejected a 5% pay deal.
Downing Street said there will be no talks unless junior doctors abandon their starting position of a 35% pay rise and call off the strikes.
Nearly 200,000 hospital appointments and procedures in England had to be rescheduled when tens of thousands of junior doctors staged a 96-hour strike in a dispute over pay between April 11 and 15.
NHS England data showed 20,470 inpatient procedures had to be rescheduled, along with 175,755 outpatient appointments – making a total of 196,225.
An average of 26,145 staff per day were absent from work as a result of the industrial action.
In a statement on Wednesday night, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said it was concerned a solution had not yet been reached and worried about the anticipated impact on NHS services and patients.
“All colleges are keenly aware of the concerns and frustration of doctors throughout the NHS and the intense workload pressures they, along with other NHS professionals, are facing as a result of workforce shortages and as a legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the medical chiefs said.
“We urge both parties to engage swiftly and to enter negotiations with a commitment to work constructively and to offer flexibility.
“To this end both parties need to rapidly engage with an independent organisation to work out how the deadlock can be broken for the sake of patients and the wider NHS.”
It comes after the NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said the strikes were having a “colossal impact” on planned care in the NHS.
“Each of the 195,000 appointments postponed has an impact on the lives of individuals and their families and creates further pressure on services and on a tired workforce – and this is likely to be an underestimate of the impact as some areas provisionally avoided scheduling appointments for these strike days,” he said.
“Our staff now have an immense amount of work to catch up on hundreds of thousands of appointments, all while continuing to make progress on tackling the backlog of people who have been waiting the longest for treatment. We have now seen nearly half a million appointments rescheduled over the last five months, and with each strike, it becomes harder.
“While our staff are doing all they possibly can to manage the disruption, it is becoming increasingly difficult and the impact on patients and staff will unfortunately continue to worsen.”
He suggested dis-satisfaction among junior doctors also “has deeper causes” than just pay and include staffing levels and worker burnout.
Regarding all health strikes, he said: “Could the current lose-lose standoff have been avoided? By last autumn it was obvious that inflation was far higher than assumed by the independent NHS review bodies, so their original recommendations wouldn’t stick.
“At that point they could have been asked, exceptionally, to make an improved 18-month pay recommendation. That might have drawn the sting while preserving their legitimacy.
“Had it been coupled with the Government’s long-awaited NHS workforce plan to expand and reform training, frontline staff might have seen light at the end of tunnel.
“Now if further strikes drag on, at the very least waiting lists will worsen. The nuclear option of withdrawing cover for emergency services and urgent cancer care would be unconscionable.”
Elsewhere, on Thursday, Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that problems have been building up for at least the last five years.
Calling for an increase in capacity, he said the NHS requires more money, with funding needing to be deployed “in a much more planned way”.