The UK is facing the largest strike in the history of health care due to the wage crisis
The UK is facing its biggest ever strike by health workers on Monday, involving tens of thousands of nurses and paramedics, amid an escalating row with the government over wages that will lead to further disruptions to an already overstretched health system.
Nursing and ambulance workers have taken separate strikes since late last year, but Monday’s strike, involving workers from both fields, most of whom are in England, would mark the largest strike in the history of the 75-year-old public health system.
Stephen Boyce, medical director for NHS England, said the strike this week, which also saw physiotherapists take part on Thursday, was likely to have the biggest impact on services yet.
Health care workers are demanding wage increases commensurate with Britain’s worst inflation in four decades, while the government says it will cost more than it can afford and lead to more price hikes, thus raising interest rates and mortgage payments.
Some 500,000 workers and employees, many from the public sector, have gone on strike since last summer, piling pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to resolve differences to limit disruption to public services such as railways and schools.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay urged people to continue to access emergency services and to stick to appointments unless they are cancelled, but stressed there would be disruption.
“Despite the emergency measures in place, strikes by ambulance and nursing unions this week will inevitably lead to further delays for patients who are already facing longer waiting times due to Covid backlogs,” he said in a statement.
“I’ve had constructive talks with trade unions about wages and affordability and continue to urge them to call off strikes”.
Union leader Sharon Graham told the BBC on Sunday that she wanted Sunak to come to the negotiating table… This government is putting lives at risk,” she said.
The NHS has historically been a source of pride for most Britons but is under severe strain, with millions of patients on waiting lists for operations and thousands not getting urgent emergency care each month.
The Nursing Workers Union says ten years of poor pay has contributed to tens of thousands leaving the profession, including 25,000 in the past year alone, with severe staff shortages affecting patient care.
The union initially demanded a five percent wage increase above inflation and then said it might meet the government halfway, but both sides failed to reach an agreement despite weeks of talks.
Meanwhile, thousands of ambulance workers are set to go on strike on Monday over a wage dispute.
Not all ambulance workers will strike at once and emergency calls will be answered.
Sunak said in a televised interview last week that he’d like to give nurses a big salary increase, but said the government faced difficult choices and was funding the public health system in other areas such as providing medical equipment and ambulances.