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UK Nurses Announce 2-day Strike Over Salary Dispute

The biggest strike in the National Health Service’s 106-year history was called after the government refused to reopen talks over a 19% pay hike demand.
Nurses hold placards outside the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Victoria Tower Gardens, London, Wednesday July 21, 2021.

Nurses hold placards outside the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Victoria Tower Gardens, London, Wednesday July 21, 2021. Image Courtesy: AP

For the first time in the National Health Service’s (NHS) 106-year history, nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will strike on December 15 and 20 over a pay dispute.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members will not work for 12 hours on both days and only provide emergency care after the government refused to reopen talks over a 19% pay hike demand terming it unaffordable, the BBC reported.

An RCN spokesperson said, “We are committed to ensuring life-preserving service is in place and will be confirming derogations with individual employers in due course.”

The strike decision was taken after a ballot among the 300,000-plus members of the RCN, which had earlier given the government a deadline to open “detailed negotiations” and threatened to announce strike dates for December.

Starting salaries for nurses in England are only above £27,000 and nearly £55,000 for senior ones. According to data from the London School of Economics, salaries of experienced nurses have declined by 20% in real terms in the last 10 years, meaning they are effectively working one day a week for free, Sky News reported.

Recent research conducted by the health charity Nuffield Trust found that the pay of NHS staff remained lower in real terms in 2021-22 compared to 2010-11.

The RCN had demanded a 5% rise above the current retail price index inflation rate of 14%.

In England and Wales, NHS staff, including nurses, have been given a rise of, at least, £1,400, which is worth about 4% on average for nurses.

In Northern Ireland, nurses are yet to receive a pay rise due to the lack of a working government. Nurses in Scotland suspended the strike after the government offered more than an 8% rise for newly qualified nurses. 


Ministers have chosen strike action. Nursing staff have had enough of being taken for granted, enough of low pay and unsafe staffing levels and enough of not being able to give our patients the care they deserve,” RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said.

Shaun Williams, who started working as a nurse a year ago, feels said about the strike but is prepared to do it. “I am sorry we are having to do this. But we are doing it for the right reasons, we are doing it for patient safety,” he told the BBC.

You are running on reserves most days. We do not have enough staff and because of the lack of nurses, patients are at risk. Unless we pay nurses more, we are not going to attract people or keep people,” he added.

Feminist writer and campaigner Sophie Walker supported the strike and slammed the Rishi Sunak-led Conservative government taking nurses for “granted”.

I’m 100 percent behind the #nursestrike and the largely female workforce that is taking a stand. The @Conservatives have taken caregivers, like nurses, for granted - for more than a decade of government. We must value care, and those who give it (sic),” she tweeted.

However, England health secretary Steve Barclay said that the RCN demand is not affordable and pointed out that the government had met the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body in giving its award, according to the BBC.

These are challenging times for everyone and the economic circumstances mean the RCN’s demands, which on current figures are a 19.2% pay rise, costing £10 billion a year, are not affordable,” he said.

There was a 3% pay rise last year in recognition of their work during the pandemic despite a public-sector pay freeze, Barclay further said.

Our priority is keeping patients safe. The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate,” Barclay added.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, said that he has a “great deal of sympathy” for nurses struggling with the rising inflation but insists that the best way to help them is to bring inflation down.

Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting asked “why on earth” Barclay is “refusing to negotiate with nurses?”

Patients already can’t get treated on time; strike action is the last thing they need yet the government is letting this happen. Patients will never forgive the Conservatives for this negligence,” Streeting said.

GP services will be unaffected as nurses working in practices were not entitled to take part in the ballot. Besides, nurses at more than 40% of England’s hospitals, mental health and community services are not entitled to strike because the turnout was too low in those votes, the BBC reported.

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