British nurses stage unprecedented strike



British nurses on Thursday held an unprecedented one-day strike as a “last resort” in their fight for better wages and working conditions, despite warnings it could put patients at risk.

Up to 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are suspended from work from 0800 to 2000 GMT after rejecting a government salary offer.

The RCN’s industrial action is part of a growing wave of strikes by public and private sector workers.

Pickets have been set up at major government hospitals including Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust in London.

Ameera, a senior nurse in London, told AFP that “we did not take industrial action lightly.”

The strike is the first in the 106-year history of the Royal College of Nursing Union.

“Was tired. We’re fed up,” added the nurse, who asked that her last name not be reported. “We need a raise now to make a living.”

The UK is currently grappling with a cost of living crisis as rising inflation outpaces wage growth.

Union leaders and health workers also said nurses were overworked due to staff shortages as the state’s National Health Service (NHS) struggled with a backlog of appointments made worse by cancellations during the pandemic.

Chemotherapy, dialysis, intensive care units and nursing units, as well as neonatal and pediatric intensive care units are protected.

But other services will be reduced to Christmas staff during the phase-out, the RCN said.

Saffron Cordery, interim CEO of NHS Providers, said NHS trusts were “pulling out all the stops” to mitigate the impact on patients.

“The picture will vary across the country as trust leaders work with local unions to work out service levels,” she added.

– Care issues –

Health chiefs have warned unions that care levels could suffer because of the strike, just as seasonal respiratory illnesses like the flu are increasing pressure on already stretched services.

Cally Palmer, National Cancer Director for England, called on the union to exempt cancer surgeries from the walkout, while England’s Chief Nursing Officer expressed concern over the strike workforce plans.

“We are hearing from our colleagues that they are concerned about the assumption implied by the RCN that day duty night duty is safe,” wrote Ruth May in a letter to the RCN.

“Station activities during the day differ greatly from those at night.

“This decision has the potential to significantly impact the safety of patient care (e.g., by impacting timely administration of intravenous antibiotics, patient observations, and medication rounds),” she added.

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Health unions say their members are skipping meals, struggling to feed and clothe their families and are leaving the NHS in droves.

The RCN wants a pay rise well above inflation, which rose to a 41-year high of 11.1 percent in October and edged down to 10.7 percent last month.

The government claims the demands are prohibitive and Health Secretary Steve Barclay called the strikes “deeply regrettable”.

– Battle of the British Nurses –

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen has offered to “pause” the strikes if Barclay agrees to the talks.

But Barclay insisted that while he was open to discussing broader issues, payroll had been recommended by an independent review body and would not be reinstated.

The NHS Pay Review Body recommended a pay rise of at least £1,400 ($1,740) on top of a 3.0 per cent pay rise last year, he said.

“More pay increases would mean taking money away from frontline services as we tackle record waiting lists as a result of the pandemic,” he added.

Leading opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer called the strike a “disgrace” to the ruling Conservative government.

Accident and emergency nurse Mark Boothroyd, 37, said the cost of living crisis has meant nurses have struggled to pay bills, transport and rent.

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Poor pay has meant newly qualified nurses now have just a year or two before they leave the profession, said Boothroyd, who works at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London.

The resulting vacancies have put enormous pressure on the remaining staff, many of whom reported mental health issues due to stress.

The conditions are “terrible and must not continue,” he added.

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