For the first time in 32 years, NHS employees took industrial action in a dispute over pay. The four-hour walkout occurred on Monday 13th October from 7am until 11am.
Over 400000 health service staff took action, including midwives, nurses and ambulance crew. However figures have emerged that only 9.5 per cent of Unison, UK’s largest healthcare union, voted in favour of strike action—fewer than one in 10.
The strike, involving seven trade unions, comes after a recent recommendation to award NHS staff with a one per cent pay rise was rejected by the government. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said if the suggested pay rise was granted, more than 14000 nurses would be laid off by hospitals as a result.
Strikers voiced frustration that NHS personnel were likely to become the only group of staff in England not to receive what their pay review body recommended whilst MPs were poised to receive an 11 per cent rise.
Cathy Warwick chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives stated: “At a time when MPs are set for a 10 per cent pay rise, we’re told that midwives don’t deserve even a below-inflation one per cent rise. And politicians wonder why the public does not afford them more respect. It feels to a great many people, including midwives, that there is one rule for them and another rule for everybody else.”
During the walkout, A&E units remained open whilst other non-emergency appointments were cancelled. However, hospital staff were seen leaving the picket lines to deal with patients. While ambulance services were sent to emergency situations, those with less serious illness or injury were given “alternative treatment pathways.”
Patients with broken bones and breathing difficulties were told to visit their GP or make their own way to hospital. Military drivers, police, and healthcare professionals from elsewhere in the NHS helped to minimise disruption during the walkout.
Disruption to services will continue as the seven unions involved in the strike are joined by 2600 senior hospital doctors to start work-to-rule action. This is expected to involve staff refusing to do more than the minimum required by the rules of their contract, and precisely follow safety or other regulations in order to cause a slowdown.
Unless the government rethinks its decision to deny the workforce a one per cent pay rise, more industrial action could take place next month. This could involve a full-day walkout.
Rachael Maskell, head of health at the union Unite, said, “we are already planning and will definitely be taking further industrial action if the government doesn’t put more money on the table and doesn’t talk to us.”