England‘s chief nurse says she’d like to see a resolution to nurses’ strikes as soon as possible, as tens of thousands of nurses take action across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Staff have expressed anger and sadness at being forced to strike for more pay.
The UK government says the Royal College of Nursing’s pay demands are unaffordable. Nurses got an extra 3% last year after the pandemic and another rise recommended by a pay review body.
The strikes have been held in around a quarter of hospitals and community teams in England, all health boards in Northern Ireland and all but one in Wales. Nurses in Scotland are not striking today while they consider a pay offer from the Scottish government.
England’s chief nurse Dame Ruth May met striking nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. A video on Twitter sees her calling for the government to “make sure they work with the RCN and other unions to get an urgent resolution to pay”. Downing Street said she was not speaking for the government and had her own views as chief nurse.
May also thanked nurses working on wards around the country “this day and every day”, adding that they would continue to “ensure minimal risk to patient safety”. Pat Cullen, head of the Royal College of Nursing, called it “a tragic day for nursing and for patients” and asked the government to address pay this year to “stop the drain out of our profession”. More strikes by nurses are planned on 20 December and in the new year. She said nurses were “asking for the 20% that has been taken out of their pay over the last decade”.
Speaking outside a hospital in London, the Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the government was “hugely grateful” to nurses but the 19% pay rise they wanted “is not affordable given the many other economic pressure that we face,” he said.
He said three-quarters of trusts had not gone on strike today and many nurses had continued working in areas that were excluded from the strike because of the risk to life.
Earlier today, health minister Maria Caulfield said around 70,000 appointments, procedures and surgeries would be lost in England due to the strike.
Under strike rules, emergency care must still be provided, for example in intensive care and A&E, and urgent cancer treatment and dialysis should run as normal – which means the biggest impact will have been on routine services. These include planned knee and hip replacements and out-patient appointments.
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