British nurses go on strike in bitter pay dispute

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National Health Service nurses in Britain staged a strike on Thursday, their first ever national walkout, as a bitter dispute with the government over pay ramps up pressure on already-stretched hospitals at one of the busiest times of year.

An estimated 100,000 nurses are striking at 76 hospitals and health centres, cancelling an estimated 70,000 appointments, procedures and surgeries in Britain’s state-funded NHS. Britain is facing a wave of industrial action this winter, with strikes crippling the rail network and postal service, and airports bracing for disruption over Christmas.

Inflation running at more than 10pc, trailed by pay offers of around 4pc, is stoking tensions between unions and employers. Of all the strikes though, it will be the sight of nurses on picket lines that will be the stand-out image for many Britons this winter.

“What a tragic day. This is a tragic day for nurs-ing, it is a tragic day for patients, patients in hospitals like this, and it is a tragic day for people of this society and for our NHS,” Pat Cullen, the head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union, told the BBC on a picket line.

70,000 appointments, procedures and surgeries cancelled across the country

The widely admired nursing profession shut down parts of the NHS, which since its founding in 1948 has developed national treasure status for being free at the point of use, hitting healthcare provision when it is already stretched in winter and with backlogs at record levels due to Covid delays. Health minister Steve Barclay said it was deeply regrettable that the strike was going ahead.

“Ive been working across government and with medics outside the public sector to ensure safe staff-ing levels — but I do remain concerned about the risk that strikes pose to patients,” he said.

The industrial action by nurses on Dec 15 and Dec 20 is unprecedented in the British nursing un-ion’s 106-year history, but the RCN says it has no choice as workers struggle to make ends meet.

Nurses want a pay rise of 5pc plus inflation, ar-guing they have suffered a decade of real-terms cuts and that low pay means staff shortages and unsafe care for patients. The government says their demand would equate to a 19pc hike. The government has refused to discuss pay, which Cullen said raised the prospect of more strikes into next year.

“Every room I go into with the secretary of state, he tells me he can talk about anything but pay,” she said. “What it is going to do is continue with days like this.” Barclay told reporters: “I do think it’s important that we have a constructive engagement but it’s got to reasonable.”

Outside St Thomas’ Hospital, Ethnea Vaughan, 50, a practice development nurse said she felt nurses had no option but to strike, blaming a government that had ignor­ed their concerns for years.—ReutersLONDON: National Health Service nurses in Britain staged a strike on Thursday, their first ever national walkout, as a bitter dispute with the government over pay ramps up pressure on already-stretched hospitals at one of the busiest times of year.

An estimated 100,000 nurses are striking at 76 hospitals and health centres, cancelling an estimated 70,000 appointments, procedures and surgeries in Britain’s state-funded NHS. Britain is facing a wave of industrial action this winter, with strikes crippling the rail network and postal service, and airports bracing for disruption over Christmas.

Inflation running at more than 10pc, trailed by pay offers of around 4pc, is stoking tensions between unions and employers. Of all the strikes though, it will be the sight of nurses on picket lines that will be the stand-out image for many Britons this winter.

“What a tragic day. This is a tragic day for nurs-ing, it is a tragic day for patients, patients in hospitals like this, and it is a tragic day for people of this society and for our NHS,” Pat Cullen, the head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union, told the BBC on a picket line.

The widely admired nursing profession shut down parts of the NHS, which since its founding in 1948 has developed national treasure status for being free at the point of use, hitting healthcare provision when it is already stretched in winter and with backlogs at record levels due to Covid delays. Health minister Steve Barclay said it was deeply regrettable that the strike was going ahead.

“Ive been working across government and with medics outside the public sector to ensure safe staff-ing levels — but I do remain concerned about the risk that strikes pose to patients,” he said.

The industrial action by nurses on Dec 15 and Dec 20 is unprecedented in the British nursing un-ion’s 106-year history, but the RCN says it has no choice as workers struggle to make ends meet.

Nurses want a pay rise of 5pc plus inflation, ar-guing they have suffered a decade of real-terms cuts and that low pay means staff shortages and unsafe care for patients. The government says their demand would equate to a 19pc hike. The government has refused to discuss pay, which Cullen said raised the prospect of more strikes into next year.

“Every room I go into with the secretary of state, he tells me he can talk about anything but pay,” she said. “What it is going to do is continue with days like this.” Barclay told reporters: “I do think it’s important that we have a constructive engagement but it’s got to reasonable.”

Outside St Thomas’ Hospital, Ethnea Vaughan, 50, a practice development nurse said she felt nurses had no option but to strike, blaming a government that had ignor­ed their concerns for years.—AFP