Thursday’s strike by nurses from the National Health Service in Britain was their first-ever national walkout. The bitter dispute over pay between the government and the NHS has increased pressure on hospitals already stretched at the busiest time of year.
A strike by 100,000 nurses is underway at 76 hospitals, health centers, and cancels an estimated 70,000 procedures, appointments and surgeries within Britain’s NHS.
Britain faces a wave industrial action in the winter with strikes affecting rail and postal services, as well as disruptions at airports over Christmas.
Tensions are being created between employers and unions by inflation of more than 10%, accompanied by pay offers around 4%.
Among all the strikes, however, the striking image of nurses at picket line nursing will stand out for Britons this winter.
It is a sad day. “This is a terrible day for nursing. It is also a sad day for patients and patients in hospitals such as this. This day is tragic for the NHS,” Pat Cullen (head of the Royal College of Nursing) told BBC via picket line.
Parts of the NHS were shut down by the much-loved nursing profession. Since 1948, the NHS has been a national treasure. It is free at the point it is used. This means that healthcare provision can be cut when it’s already stretched during winter or with record backlogs due to COVID delays.
Steve Barclay, Health Minister, said that it was very regrettable that this strike would continue.
He said, “I have been working with both the government and outside medics to secure safe staffing levels. But I remain worried about the risks that strikes pose for patients.”
The striking industrial action of nurses in December 15 and 20 was unprecedented in British nursing union history. However, the RCN said it had no other choice because workers are struggling to survive.
The nurses want an inflation-plus 5% pay increase. They claim they’ve suffered 10 years of real-terms cuts, and low wages have led to staff shortages and unsafe care for their patients. According to the government, their demand for a pay rise of 19% would be sufficient.
Cullen stated that the government refused to talk about pay and raised concerns over possible strikes in 2019.
She said, “Every single room that I enter with the secretary-of-state, he says he can discuss anything except pay.” It will continue like this for days.
Barclay stated to reporters that he believes it is important for us to have constructive engagement, but that it has got be reasonable.
Ethnea Vaughan (50), a nurse in practice development, said that she believed nurses were forced to go on strike outside St Thomas’ Hospital, central London. She blamed a government for not listening for many years.
She told that “Nothing’s changing” and she has been in nursing 27 years. All I see is a decline in morale.
Passing vehicles in Belfast sounded their horns to support the nurses who gathered in picket lines at the Royal Victoria Hospital in freezing conditions.
I didn’t take this decision lightly. Louise Mitchell, a 40-year nurse, said that she decided it was the right time to let go.
We don’t want our patients to be in pain any longer. Because there are not enough resources for the health system, patient care suffers every single day.
By holding negotiations on wages, the government of Scotland was able to avoid a strike in nursing, which is what the RCN had expected in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The government says it can’t afford to pay nurses more than 4-5%, as recommended by an independent group, and further increases could mean cutting funding for frontline services.
The RCN stated that some treatment areas, such as intensive care and chemotherapy, were not affected by the strike.
According to polling, the majority of Britons support the strike in the wake of the nurses’ strike.