Senior medical leaders have called on junior doctors not to go ahead with a planned all-out strike later this month.
Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of NHS England, said that if juniors withdraw emergency cover as intended then enormous strain will be placed on A&E, intensive care and maternity services.
He added that it also risks irreparably damaging public trust and the reputation of the profession.
The Chair of the GMC also warned juniors that strike action was becoming increasingly hard to justify with patient care suffering.
Professor Terence Stephenson added that the GMC would be issuing further guidance to doctors contemplating action.
“More than 24,000 patients have already had their operations cancelled as a result. The concern now being expressed by NHS organisations is that, in spite of extensive planning and additional support from senior doctors, some hospitals may be unable to provide safe care for all their patients,” he said.
A full strike is planned for 26 and 27 April from 08:00 to 17:00, when junior doctors will walkout and not cover emergency care.
Junior doctors reacted with anger on social media to the comments.
One said: “It is my duty as a doctor that compels me to strike – it is for the future of my patients.”
Another said it was ironic that the GMC is concerned by striking juniors but appears disinterested in junior doctors having to regularly work unsafe rotas – both currently and under the proposed contract.
Both Keogh and Stephenson acknowledge that more needs to be done to address junior doctor morale.
Stephenson said: “Many doctors in training feel alienated, unvalued and deeply frustrated and this extends far beyond the current contractual dispute. There is a pressing need to address these deep-seated concerns.
“Given our responsibilities for overseeing the education and training of doctors throughout the UK, the GMC is keen to work with all parties to find a way forward that improves the working lives of doctors in training. But we recognise that this will be difficult if the current contractual dispute has not come to an end.”
Keogh was heavily criticised at the start of the dispute for questioning whether striking doctors would cross the picket line if a terrorist attack occurred.
In his latest statement, he said: “Doctors are the most trusted profession. This trust is a privileged gift bestowed on us by society, but it brings responsibilities and expectations. One of these expectations is that we are there when people need us most.
“By withdrawing emergency cover, we risk crossing a line, which will irreparably damage this trust and the reputation of our profession. So I encourage every doctor considering withdrawing emergency cover to dig deep and ask whether such action is fair to patients or compatible with the values and privilege of being a doctor.”