Tens Of Thousands Of Healthcare Workers Made Largest Healthcare Strike In UK History 

Nurses UK

Workers on the picket line outside Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton during strike by nurses and ambulance staff. Photo: Morning Star

Tens of thousands of British nurses and ambulance workers walked off the job on Monday, in what is the largest strike in the 75-year history of the National Health Service (NHS).

While the government has offered a pay rise, workers and unions say their earnings have not kept up with inflation.

While nurses and ambulance staff have participated in separate strikes in recent months, Monday’s work stoppage involved both members of the Royal College of Nursing and ambulance workers who are members of the GMB and Unite trade unions.

Unions have warned of further action

A report by Morning Star said:

A “constant cycle of national NHS pay strikes will continue for as long as it takes,” unions warned as tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance workers downed tools in the biggest-ever health service walkout.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which began a 48-hour strike, said members at 73 health trusts across England withdrew their labour — a massive increase on the 44 that saw action in December’s first walkout.

Unite and GMB paramedics, call handlers and other staff at ambulance trusts also joined the massive industrial action, which NHS leaders said caused “huge disruption.”

Ahead of further strikes by physiotherapists on Thursday and ambulance staff including Unison members on Friday, union leaders urged Tory ministers to act on years of falling take-home wages, saying the situation is driving a worker exodus and endangering patient safety.

However, Downing Street repeated its stubborn refusal to reopen talks on 2022-23’s below-inflation 4.75 per cent salary deal, despite an improved offer from the Welsh Labour government late last week.

Friday’s proposal — an additional 3 per cent on top of this financial year’s deal, of which 1.5 per cent is a permanent increase — saw most health unions postpone yesterday’s planned walkouts west of the Severn Bridge, but Unite ambulance members were still out on strike.

General secretary Sharon Graham stressed the action went ahead because it would be “disingenuous for us to put an offer to pause the strike in the full knowledge it was going to get rejected, but we are tantalisingly close to a deal in Wales.”

She contrasted progress in talks with the devolved administration there to Westminster’s approach, where Tory ministers “just always sing ‘la la la la la’ and hope that the year goes by and we will forget what has happened.”

There “isn’t going to be any other way to end this dispute” until Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Steve Barclay agree to talk pay for 2022-23 and not just for 2023-24, she said.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health trusts, backed the call, telling Sky News that ministers must engage with unions on this year’s wages as health services face a “hugely disruptive week.”

RCN head Pat Cullen hailed nurses for “trying to bring their NHS back from the brink.”

Speaking at a picket line outside St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London, she added: “They will continue to do this for as long as it takes for this government to actually wake up and listen to their voice on behalf of patients.

“This government has chosen to punish nurses instead of getting round a table and talking to me about pay in the same way as they’ve done in Wales and Scotland.”

Walkouts north of the border have been avoided so far after SNP ministers upped their salary offer to 7.5 per cent before Christmas.

Labour accused the PM’s under-pressure administration of “sitting this one out” when it comes to negotiating with striking workers.

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has himself faced criticism for refusing to commit to inflation-matching wage rises for public-sector workers should Labour win the next general election, said the strikes were a “badge of shame for the government.”

He added: “I think many people will be absolutely flabbergasted that the government is still sitting this one out, not showing any leadership in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, making the situation much worse than it otherwise would be.”

Other media reports said:

Seven additional strikes are planned by ambulance workers before the end of March.

Unions have demanded that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak get involved in the negotiations, something he has thus far refused to do.

A spokesperson for Sunak called the strikes “deeply regrettable,” while the NHS noted that industrial action would place its services “under increased pressure” at an already busy time.

Another Morning Star report said:

A paramedic described the mood on the picket line at her ambulance station in Goole, east Yorkshire, as “upbeat and determined.”

Dawn Turner is a member of GMB, one of the three unions urging the government to enter discussions about their need for a pay rise in the ambulance dispute.

“Deliver a baby. Save a life. Elderly fall. All in the same shift,” read one of the placards at the picket.

Another said: “A newly qualified paramedic, as a lone parent, is better off on benefits than saving lives.” Yet ambulance paramedics must have degree-level qualifications to take up their jobs.

The pickets in Goole enjoyed the continuing — even increasing — support of the public with regular waves, beeps from cars and trucks and shouts of encouragement.

Up To 500 Dying Every Week Because Of UK Hospital Delays

Another media report said:

Delays in British emergency departments could be causing between 300 and 500 deaths each week, Royal College of Emergency Medicine President Dr Adrian Boyle has told Times Radio.

According to data from NHS England, 37,837 patients waited more than 12 hours to be admitted to emergency departments in November, up from 10,646 in November 2021. Although figures for December have yet to be released, Boyle told the Times that he would be “amazed” if they were not the worst on record.

“What we are seeing now in terms of these long waits is being associated with increased morality, and we think somewhere between 300-500 people are dying as a consequence of delays and problems with urgent and emergency care each week,” he said, in remarks quoted by multiple British media outlets on Sunday.

“We need to actually get a grip of this,” he continued. “We need to increase our capacity within our hospitals, we need to make sure that there are alternative ways so that people are not all just funneled into the ambulance service and emergency department.”

While hospitals are typically more crowded in winter, this season saw strikes by nurses and ambulance staff in December, and a virulent outbreak of influenza in recent weeks. According to NHS data, 3,746 people per day were hospitalized with the flu in the week leading up to Christmas, up from 2,088 per day a week earlier.

While cases of Covd-19 remain low throughout the UK, staff absences due to the virus were up more than 47% in December compared to November, the Guardian reported.

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