Junior doctors at Great Western Hospital have started their longest strike to date in an ongoing dispute over pay.

The six-day walkout began at 7am on Wednesday (January 3) and will last until 7am on Tuesday, January 9.

A spokesperson for the hospital trust said: “Our urgent and emergency care services remain open, but are very busy, so please use the most appropriate local healthcare option for your needs.”

Strike action paused in October to allow pay talks to take place between the government and the BMA, but the BMA then ended those talks.

An offer of a pay rise averaging three per cent from January was being discussed, on top of the average of nearly nine per cent rise junior doctors received in April.

But the BMA said that was not enough, as junior doctors want to make up for below-inflation pay rises they have received since 2008.

Regional health officials are advising potential patients on ways to ease the pressure on staff at GWH during the busy first weekend of the year while this industrial action is happening.

People should choose the healthcare option that is most appropriate for their condition - which could be self-care - and only using urgent and emergency care services for genuinely life-threatening emergencies.

Dr Amanda Webb, the chief medical officer for the Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Integrated Care Board, said: “Our local NHS remains in a very challenging position, with many colleagues feeling exhausted after pulling out all the stops to keep services running during the last strike, and then going straight into the busy Christmas and New Year period.

“This latest strike, which at six days is the longest period of industrial action to date, means more disruption is on the way, and that the overall impact will be felt long after the picket line has ended.

“We desperately need people to get behind us, as they did throughout December, and show their support through the appropriate use of our local health and care services.

“Pharmacies and GP practices are now open as normal, and NHS 111 continues to provide quick, practical and easy-to-understand healthcare information either online or over the telephone.”

For more information, visit www.bswtogether.org.uk/yourhealth People can visit www.111.nhs.uk and - by answering a few short questions - can get tailored help and advice and, where necessary, directions to other local care services.

Similar help can be obtained from community pharmacies. Most have a private area where people can talk to a pharmacist in confidence for help with a minor illness or injury.