Doctors are taking industrial action for the first time in 37 years, despite last-ditch attempts from ministers to dissuade them.
The Health Secretary Andrew Lansley pleaded with them not to take part in the day of action, which is being held in protest over the Government's controversial pension reforms.
He urged doctors not to participate in the "pointless" strike, warning them that it would achieve nothing.
NHS leaders also said patients should not be dragged into the dispute.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said its members did not want to participate but felt there was "no other option left" to make their voices heard.
The BMA said all non-urgent work would be postponed and added that, although the action will be disruptive, doctors will ensure that patient safety is protected.
Accident and emergency departments and maternity services will run as normal, and tests for critical conditions such as cancer will still be available.
But some non-emergency hospital clinics, outpatient appointments and planned surgery may be postponed.
GP practices also will remain open but some may postpone routine appointments which can be rearranged for another day.