International

Nurses in UK to go on strike for the first time in history

According to their trade organization, tens of thousands of British nurses will strike for the first time in order to seek higher pay, adding to the pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at a time of economic crisis.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that nurses at the majority of state-run National Health Service (NHS) employers in Britain have chosen to strike, posing a serious threat to the already overburdened healthcare system.

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Following the first strike vote in its 106-year history, the RCN, which has more than 300,000 members, said that industrial action would start before the end of the year.

“Anger has become action — our members are saying enough is enough,” RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said in a statement. “This action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses. Standards are falling too low.” NHS nurses have seen their salaries cut by up to 20% in real terms over the last 10 years, the RCN has said.

The union is asking for a pay hike of 5% above inflation. Britain has seen a wave of industrial unrest this year across a range of professions as pay hikes fail to keep up with inflation running at 10%. Sunak’s spokesperson told reporters earlier on Wednesday the government wanted to strike a balance between the “crucial role” played by nurses and its fiscal challenges.

The RCN’s demands would require total pay increases of £9 billion ($10.25 billion), which the spokesperson said would be “simply not feasible” and that there were backup measures in place for any “staff effect.”

The walkout will occur as the NHS deals with its worst-ever staffing shortage and continues to recover from the blow the Covid epidemic dealt to its ability to provide services.

The beloved British institution, which has offered free healthcare at the point of use since 1948, is currently juggling a record 7 million patients on hospital waiting lists. The emergency and accident rooms are also overworked.

Health Minister Steve Barclay stated, “We are all incredibly appreciative of the hard work and devotion of NHS personnel, particularly nurses, and genuinely regret that some union members have opted for strike action.”

“Keeping patients safe during any strikes is our top responsibility. The NHS has tried-and-true plans in place to reduce disruption and guarantee the continuation of emergency services.

Since taking office two weeks ago, Sunak has already come under fire to address the issue after being addressed by an elderly patient at a hospital visit who urged him to “try more” on nurse’s wages.

In light of the government’s plans to release a budget next week with the goal of restoring the country’s public finances, Cullen urged “real investment” from it.

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