Several nurses and ambulance service staff quit their jobs and went on their largest-ever strike on Monday, February 6th. The strike, which took place due to a payment dispute, has impacted Britain’s state-run National Health Service (NHS).
Since late 2022, ambulance service staff and nurses have been protesting separately but Monday’s strike which involved both, especially in England, became the largest walkout in the 75-year history of the NHS.
Stephen Powis, Medical Director at NHS, said on Monday that nurses would also walk out on Tuesday, ambulance staff on Friday, and physiotherapists on Thursday, which would make this week the most damaging in NHS history.
Health workers demanded a pay raise that showed the worst inflation in Britain in four decades. The government stated that it was unaffordable and would only lead to more price rises, making interest rates and mortgage payments rise in future.
Nurse Ethna Vaughan, who participated in the strike outside St Thomas’ Hospital in central London, said, “The government needs to listen and discuss pay rather than just saying the NHS doesn’t have money.”
“We cannot survive with what we’re being paid”, she said.
About 500,000 workers, the majority from the public sector, have been protesting since last summer to pressure Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to settle the conflict and control damage to public services such as railways and schools.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) trade union wrote to Britain’s Prime Minister on the weekend and requested him to bring the health workers’ strike “to a swift close” by giving “meaningful” payment offers.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Sunak said that the prime minister was not supposed to get involved in the talks. He added, “We want to keep discussing how we can find a path forward with the unions.”
Maria Caulfield, the minister for mental health and women’s health strategy, told British television news channel Sky News on Monday, “We’ve got one of the busiest winters we have ever had with record levels of funding going into the NHS to try and manage services.”
“So, every per cent of a pay increase takes money away.”
The NHS, the pride of Britons, has millions of patients on waiting lists for operations as well as every month several patients do not receive efficient emergency care.
The RCN said a decade of poor pay resulted in many nurses quitting, 25,000 nurses leaving their jobs in 2022, leading to a severe impact on the patient’s health due to a shortage in staffing.
Rebecca Cosgrave, who also took part in the strike outside St. Thomas’ Hospital, said, “We’ve got to look at the future, and that’s what this is all about… it looks like a very bleak future.”
While talking about the poor pay that made recruitment of nurses difficult, she said, “A lot of people have left the profession already because they’re so disillusioned.”
At first, the RCN requested a 5% pay rise above inflation since it had said it would fulfil the agreement “halfway” with the government, but both sides failed to meet the agreement regardless of the talks.
Many ambulance workers representing the GMB and Union trade unions were prepared to protest on Monday for their payment dispute. Both unions declared industrial actions for several more days.
All ambulance workers did not go on strike at once as well as they ensured to attend emergency calls.
Nurses and some ambulance staff in Wales cancelled the strikes planned on Monday as they reviewed payment offered by the Welsh government.