Thousands of nurses walk out in the biggest strike in NHS history

England has come to a grinding halt in the run up to Christmas as nurses are the latest profession to go on strike. 

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is striking today, with up to 100,000 nurses walking out across the region.

Union members will also walk out on the 20th of December

Opposition leader, Keir Starmer, said that this strike is a “badge of shame” for the government.

Can I still access NHS services?

Roughly 70,000 appointments and surgeries are being cancelled today because of the strike action.

The union released a list of services that were exempt from the strike. This is being called a “life-preserving care model”, meaning essential care will still occur for those most vulnerable.

Services exempt are, ‘Chemotherapy, dialysis, critical care units (such as intensive care and high dependency), neonatal, paediatric intensive care and paediatric A&E’ according to the RCN.

Why are they striking? 

Strikes are going ahead over disputes surrounding pay rises. This is the busiest time of year for the NHS and with the change in weather, there is likely to be increased pressure on healthcare services.

The RCN said that nurses pay is falling well below the inflation rate and is worsening given the current cost-of-living crisis. It is campaigning for a 19 per cent pay rise to support union members.

The union’s general secretary, Pat Cullen, met the health secretary, Steve Barclay, earlier this week to try to begin formal pay negations.

But the RCN said that the minister did not want to discuss pay but that he would rather discuss the emergency action and protections needed because of the strikes.

Picket line outside of St Thomas’ hospital, central London – Credit: Ella Devereux, Twitter

Where are they striking?

There are a cluster of picket lines and protests in and around central London and over 100 other events across England. This excludes some parts of East Anglia and the South of England.

Other care trusts in Northern Ireland are also striking today, adding to the pressure on the government.

What is being done by the government? 

James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, in a recent interview with Laura Kuenssberg expressed his support for his cabinet colleague, suggesting that the pay rise recommendation of 4 to 5 per cent for NHS staff, was not negotiable.

He said, “Salary negotiations are done between union leaders … and their employer.”

In this case the nurses employers are the NHS.

Scottish health unions have agreed to a 7.5 per cent pay deal by the Scottish government, which RCN Scotland has asked its members to consider.

What’s happening next?

The union has said that the government has the potential to stop the strike action if it engages in negotiations over pay.

RCN’s Pat Cullen, who will be attending picket lines today said, “Today, we strike for fairness. We strike for the future of our NHS. We strike because it’s our right – and our duty – to stand up for fair pay and for patient safety.”

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