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UK strikes set to escalate as nurses prepare for ‘unprecedented’ walkout

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UK strikes set to escalate as nurses prepare for ‘unprecedented’ walkout


London
CNN

Nurses in the UK have reached their limits.

Up to 100,000 members The Royal College of Nursing will go on strike in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on Thursday in the first of two days of strike action this month to protest poor pay and working conditions. They plan to retire again on December 20. (Nurses in Scotland are negotiating a separate pay offer.)

Its the first time In its 106-year history, the RCN, the UK’s largest nursing union, has gone on strike in England. The action has been caused by a cost of living crisis that has dramatically reduced the purchasing power of nurses nearly three years after the start of a pandemic that pushed many to their limits.

“It’s unprecedented,” Billy Palmer, a senior fellow at the Nuffield Trust, a health research firm, told CNN. While small groups of nursing staff have left before, the country’s NHS hasn’t seen “anything of this scale so far,” he added.

That’s partly because, for most of its history, the RCN had a “no strike” policy. In 1995, the union changed its rules and allowed strikes as long as they did not compromise patient care.

“Patient safety is always paramount,” the RCN says on its website, adding that some nursing staff will continue to work during the strike. The RCN has pledged to maintain critical services, including chemotherapy and dialysis treatments, during the strikes this month.

Nurses join hundreds of thousands of other british workers who are on strike this December, including railway staff, postal workers and ambulance drivers. At the center of these disputes is the salary, which is not up to the inflation that reached a maximum of 41 years from 11.1% in October.

is the widest wave of industrial unrest since the country’s infamous “winter of discontent” in the late 1970s, when large numbers of workers, from truckers to gravediggers, went on strike.

The chaos has led Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to warn that new “tough” laws restricting strikes are on the way.

Earlier this year, the RCN rejected a government offer to increase nurses’ pay by a minimum of £1,400 ($1,707) a year. The offer represented an average increase of 4.3%, well below the Rate of inflation.

Pat Cullen, RCN’s general secretary and chief executive, said last month that “enough [was] enough,” and that nurses “would no longer tolerate a financial razor at home and unfair treatment at work.”

Union says it wants a 19% pay rise — a 5% increase over 14% inflation, as measured by the October retail price index — and the government filling a record number of staff vacancies it argues is endangering patient safety.

The RCN knows that’s optimistic, Palmer said. The nurses are not “genuinely expecting” such an increase, she said, but are simply using it as a starting point for negotiations.

But that demand is “not affordable,” Steve Barclay, the UK’s health secretary, told CNN in a statement. Each additional 1% pay increase for nursing staff would cost the government about £700 million ($854 million), it added.

Barclay said in Twitter last month that industrial action would “inevitably” affect services, but that the NHS had “tried and tested plans to minimize disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate”.

The dispute has its roots in previous grievances. The 360,000 nurses who work for the NHS the service’s largest professional group—have suffered from years of underinvestment, argues the RCN.

In 2010, the Conservative-led coalition government embarked on a decade of austerity to stabilize the country’s finances after the global crisis. financial crisis.

nurses pay it fell 1.2% each year between 2010 and 2017 once inflation was taken into account, according to The Health Foundation, a UK charity that campaigns for better health and healthcare. For the first three of those years, his salary was frozen.

Despite salary increases in subsequent years, the Nuffield Trust estimates that the typical salary for a nurse (around £40,000 ($49,000) for experienced full-time nurses) has fallen by almost 6%. after inflation compared to a decade ago. That compares with a 0.6% increase in private sector wages over the same period.

Internationally, it’s hard to compare UK nurse pay, given that healthcare systems differ significantly between countries, but it falls somewhere in the middle of the range for comparable economies, Palmer said.

“Almost any way you look at it, we’re pretty much in the middle, usually [we] we see ourselves a little worse than Germany, but a little better than France, and we certainly see ourselves worse than the Anglo-Saxons, like Australia and the United States,” he said.

That is also true for total spending on the NHS. While the government has increased funding over the past decade, the gains have been “marginal,” according to Palmer. Once inflation and changing demographics are factored in, spending in England has risen by just 0.4% a year since 2010, data from the Nuffield Trust shows.

Payment is not the only problem. The nurses are also exhausted, partly because there is a registry 47,000 vacancies in England.

Data from the Nuffield Trust shows that 40,000 nurses in England, or around 11% of the total nursing workforce, quit their jobs in the year to June. A similar number joined, almost 45,000, but it was not enough to fill the gaps.

Most nurses left to retire, but the number citing work-life balance, the second most common reason for leaving, is nearly four times higher than it was a decade ago.

And more could drop out if conditions don’t improve. An RCN survey of its members last December showed that 57% of those polled were considering leaving. Feeling undervalued and working under too much pressure were the main reasons given.

Sally Warren, policy director at The King’s Fund, a think tank, told CNN the past decade had been “challenging” as staff numbers lagged behind demand. The pandemic only intensified those problems.

“[Nurses were] having to manage the iPad call between someone who [couldn’t] being visited by relatives in their final hours,” Warren said. “[It was] really emotionally draining.”

Zahid Mahmood contributed to this reporting.

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