Nurses in the UK to embark on strike for the first time in history
Nurses in the UK to make history as they hint at going on strike. More than 300,000 union members will strike over pay, putting additional strain on the country’s healthcare system.
As the cost of living rises, tens of thousands of nurses in the United Kingdom will go on strike for the first time, demanding higher pay. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) announced on Wednesday that nurses at the majority of the country’s state-run National Health Service (NHS) employers had voted in favor of the strike.
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The RCN, which has over 300,000 members, announced that strike action would begin before the end of the year, following the first vote on strike action in the organization’s 106-year history.
“Anger has become action – our members are saying enough is enough,” RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said in a statement. “This action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses. Standards are falling too low.”
NHS nurses have seen their salaries drop by up to 20 percent in real terms over the last 10 years, leaving members struggling to feed their families and pay their bills, the RCN has said.
The union is asking for a pay rise of 5 percent above inflation.
NHS bosses said in September nurses were skipping meals to feed and clothe their children and were struggling to afford rising transport costs.
One in four hospitals has set up food banks to support staff, according to NHS Providers, which represents hospital groups in England.
This year has seen a wave of industrial unrest in industries ranging from railways to the law, as pay fails to keep up with inflation, which is currently at 10%, and rising energy costs.
The strike action threatens to cause significant disruption to the health system, which is already stressed due to persistent government underinvestment, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a severe staff shortage.
Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson told reporters that the government wanted to strike a balance between nurses’ “crucial role” and the country’s fiscal challenges.
However, the RCN’s demands, which it estimates will cost 9 billion British pounds ($10.25 billion), would be “simply not deliverable,” according to the spokesperson. They also stated that plans are in place to deal with any “staff impact.”
The NHS has provided free healthcare at the point of use since 1948, but it now has a record seven million patients on hospital waiting lists. Accident and emergency rooms are also understaffed.
“We are all hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of NHS staff, including nurses, and deeply regret that some union members have voted for industrial action,” Health Minister Steve Barclay said.
Sunak has already faced criticism on the issue since taking office two weeks ago, when an elderly patient told him during a hospital visit that he needed to “try harder” on nurse pay.
Cullen of the RCN called for “serious investment” from the government as it prepares to announce a budget next week aimed at repairing the nation’s finances, which were stretched by the pandemic and severely harmed by Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, who included tax cuts for the wealthiest.
The RCN says there are a record number of vacancies in nursing with 25,000 staff having left the profession in the last year.