Nurses in UK will be embarking on a strike for the first time in history, to press home their demand for better pay as the cost of living soars in the European country.
Their trade union said on Wednesday, November 9, that the majority of state-run National Health Service (NHS) employers across Britain have voted to strike. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) noted the strike would be a major disruption to an already strained health system.
The RCN which has more than 300,000 members, said industrial action would begin before the end of the year following the first ever strike vote in its 106-year-old history.
RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said in a statement;
“Anger has become action, our members are saying enough is enough.
“This action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses. Standards are falling too low.”
Many of the biggest hospitals in England will see strike action by RCN members but others narrowly missed the legal turnout thresholds to qualify for action. All NHS employers in Northern Ireland and Scotland will be included and all bar one in Wales met the relevant legal thresholds.
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, said the news was “disappointing”. He said more than one million NHS workers have received a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year on top of a 3 per cent rise last year, and 30,000 out of the 50,000 more nurses promised by 2024 had been recruited.
“But union demands for a 17.6 per cent pay settlement are around three times what millions of people outside the public sector will typically receive and simply aren’t reasonable or affordable. Labour have also refused to back this.
“Regrettably, this action will mean some patients will have their treatment delayed. My priority is to keep patients safe during any strikes, minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.”
NHS trusts are likely to cancel planned surgeries but maintain emergency care during strikes. Health leaders have said they are planning for “bank holiday” style staffing levels.
The UK has seen a wave of industrial unrest this year across industries from railways to the law as pay fails to keep up with inflation, running at 10 percent, and surging energy costs.
The strike action threatens significant disruption to health system already strained by persistent government underinvestment, the COVID-19 pandemic and a severe shortage of staff.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson told reporters earlier on Wednesday the government wanted to strike a balance between the “crucial role” played by nurses and the fiscal challenges facing the country.
The NHS has provided free healthcare at the point of use since 1948 but is now dealing with a record seven million patients on waiting lists for hospital treatment. Accident and emergency departments are also under strain.