NHS's biggest ever strike kicks off: Up to 40,000 nurses and ambulance workers take to picket lines

Nurses and ambulance staff have taken to picket lines in the biggest day of strike action in the 75-year history of the NHS, as the ongoing row over pay and conditions continues to escalate.

The nurses’ strike, coordinated by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), will take place at 73 trusts in England, where up to 40,000 will join picket lines.

Meanwhile, up to 11,500 ambulance staff who are members of GMB and Unite are staging walkouts, which will hit services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Health leaders have warned of ‘significant disruption’ due to the scale of the action  which has seen 90,000 appointments cancelled so far this winter.

Ministers have said that patients’ lives will be put at risk due to delayed care and slower ambulance response times in response to the first simultaneous NHS strikes.

Nurses strike at St Thomas' Hospital in London on February 6 as part of the ongoing row over pay and conditions

Nurses strike at St Thomas’ Hospital in London on February 6 as part of the ongoing row over pay and conditions

Royal College of Nursing members striking at St Thomas' Hospital in London on February 6

Royal College of Nursing members striking at St Thomas’ Hospital in London on February 6

Nurses at St Thomas' Hospital in London join picket lines on February 6

Nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital in London join picket lines on February 6

The RCN is calling for an 18.4 per cent pay rise — based on the current rate of inflation. It would see the average nurses’ salary go from £37,000 to £43,800.

But the union said it would halt the current strike action if the Government meets with its representative to discuss pay.

In a letter to the Prime Minister over the weekend, the RCN’s chief executive Pat Cullen said: ‘Please address this current impasse. I have made clear that opening negotiations and making meaningful offers can avert strike action.’

The Government has insisted its offer of around 4 per cent, or £1,400, is all it can afford. The deal, awarded last year, was backed by the NHS Pay Review Body.

On Friday, the Welsh Government offered NHS staff an extra three per cent pay rise for the current financial year. In response, the RCN scrapped its planned walkouts in the nation this week.

In Scotland, there are no strikes scheduled as the Government is negotiating with the union. 

Writing to Rishi Sunak, Ms Cullen said: ‘Your government looks increasingly isolated in refusing to reopen discussions about the 2022-23 NHS pay award. 

‘As a result, the strike action for England remains — with tens of thousands of nurses losing wages to ensure you hear their voice. It must not be in vain. 

‘It will be the biggest day of industrial action in the 75-year history of the NHS. Nursing staff find that a sobering realisation of how far they have been pushed to protect patient care and secure some respect for the nursing profession.

‘I’m urging you to reset your Government in the eyes of the public and demonstrate it is on the side of the hardworking, decent taxpayer. There could be no simpler way to demonstrate this commitment than bringing the nurse strike to a swift close.’ 

But Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the strikes are ‘regrettable’ and will ‘undoubtedly’ impact patients and cause delays to services, despite NHS bosses putting contingency plans in place.

He said: ‘We accepted the recommendations of the independent pay review body to give over 1million NHS workers, including nurses and ambulance workers, a pay rise of at least £1,400 this financial year, on top of an increase the previous year when wider public sector pay was frozen. 

‘I have been having constructive talks with unions about what is affordable for 2023/24, and urge them to call off the strikes and come back around the table.’

Unions argue that low pay is forcing staff to leave the health service, exacerbating long standing staffing issues and contributing to worsening ambulance response times. 

The nurses’ strikes today will hit 73 trusts in England, marking the most so far after walkouts in December were staged at 44 trusts and those in January affect 55 trusts.

Nurses will strike again on Tuesday, while physiotherapists are taking action on Thursday and more ambulance workers join picket lines on Friday.

Tens of thousands more appointments and operations are expected to be cancelled, adding to the 88,000 disrupted by the strikes so far. 

Maria Caulfield, minister for mental health and women’s health strategy, urged the RCN to call off the strikes and warned patients lives would be put at risk the longer action rumbled on. 

She said: ‘There is a risk to patients the longer that strikes go on.

‘So if your operation is cancelled the first time, there is probably a minimum risk.

‘If that’s cancelled time and time again because of ongoing strikes, then patients become more poorly and there is always a risk.

Royal College of Nursing members striking at St Thomas' Hospital in London on February 6

Royal College of Nursing members striking at St Thomas’ Hospital in London on February 6

Nurses at St Thomas' Hospital in London join picket lines on February 6

Nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital in London join picket lines on February 6

NHS staff striking outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 6

NHS staff striking outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 6

NHS staff striking outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 6

NHS staff striking outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 6

‘And with ambulance strikes, if someone’s having a heart attack or a stroke, that does increase someone’s risk the longer that response time is.’ 

It comes after Business Secretary Grant Shapps yesterday said he was ‘concerned’ that strike action could put lives at risk, warning of a ‘postcode lottery’ for some 999 callers.

Ms Caulfield, who is also a nurse and member of the RCN, told Times Radio that the Health Secretary had met with health unions ‘virtually on a weekly basis during January’ to talk about the pay award for 2023/24.

She added: ‘We are very happy to talk about the forthcoming year’s pay award, which is exactly what they’ve done in Scotland and the RCN have called off the strikes as a result.’

Asked if those talks would also look at pay for 2022/23, Ms Caulfield replied: ‘In Scotland, they are not discussing last year’s pay either, so that’s my point, we are in the same place as Scotland.

‘In England, what the unions have done is withdrawn from the independent pay review process, which doesn’t help at all because we want to submit our evidence, put our case about what is affordable and what we are willing to offer but also the unions need to do that too as they did last year.’

She told TalkTV that it would be ‘difficult’ to reopen pay discussions for 2022/23 because the unions agreed to a 4.5 per cent pay rise for most nurses and an 8.9 per cent increase for newly qualified staff. 

Ms Caulfield told GB news that she has a ‘lot of sympathy’ for striking nurses but said the Government has ‘responsibility to the taxpayer’ to follow the independent pay review process.

She added: ‘It is difficult for us now if we are to give a pay (rise) to nurses, we would have to look at teachers, ambulance drivers.

‘We just can’t afford inflation-busting pay rises that the unions are currently demanding.’ 

Victoria Busk, a trainee nursing associate on a trauma ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, said staff are ‘run off our feet’.

She said that she doesn’t see a future working in the NHS unless pay and staffing levels are boosted.

Ms Busk said: ‘At the moment I am thinking “I don’t want to end my career in a hospital”.

‘I love my job, I love the work I do, making a difference to patients. But I can’t imagine doing this until I’m in my 60s.

‘I’ll retire and I won’t be able to do anything. We’re run off our feet 24/7, breaking our backs doing the jobs of three people.’  

NHS staff striking outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 6

NHS staff striking outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 6

NHS staff striking outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 6

NHS staff striking outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 6

NHS medics on the picket line outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 6

NHS medics on the picket line outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 6

NHS medics taking industrial action at St Mary's Hospital in London on February 6

NHS medics taking industrial action at St Mary’s Hospital in London on February 6

NHS medics taking industrial action at St Mary's Hospital in London on February 6

NHS medics taking industrial action at St Mary’s Hospital in London on February 6

Striking nurses picket outside the Walton Centre in Liverpool on February 6

Striking nurses picket outside the Walton Centre in Liverpool on February 6

Striking nurses picket outside the Walton Centre in Liverpool on February 6

Striking nurses picket outside the Walton Centre in Liverpool on February 6

Joining the nurses, almost 9,000 ambulance staff — including paramedics, emergency care assistants and call handlers — who are members of the GMB union will walkout across England.

And more than 2,600 paramedics who are members of Unite will take action in the North West, North East, East Midlands, West Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Major pickets — including Brighton, Liverpool, Harrogate and Gateshead — will see 999 crews line up alongside nurses.

Unions have committed to providing ‘life and limb’ emergency cover on strike days.

But patients who suffer heart attacks, strokes or falls may be denied an ambulance when dialling 999 on strike days, while also facing longer waits in A&E. 

Workers across the ambulance service voted to strike over the Government’s 4 per cent pay award.

Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said: ‘It’s been almost a month since the Government engaged in any meaningful dialogue – instead, they’ve wasted time attempting to smear ambulance workers.’

She added: ‘The NHS is crumbling; people are dying and this Government is dithering.

‘The public back ambulance workers. The Government needs to wake up and talk pay now.’ 

Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, called on Mr Sunak and Mr Barclay to open negotiations on pay or face a ‘constant cycle’ of walkouts.

Speaking from a picket in Wales, she said the Government has not discussed pay at ‘any time’ and it is the only way to end the dispute.

Ms Graham said: ‘That’s what needs to happen. Until that happens, we are in this constant cycle of having strike action, which obviously nobody wants.

‘Our members do not want to be on strike. They want to be at work serving the country.’  

She added: ‘They can’t just always sing “la la la la la” and hope that the year goes by and we will forget what’s happened. This year’s pay needs to be addressed.

‘But this is part of the problem – I’m not sure that they understand how to negotiate, maybe Rishi Sunak is not up to the job.’ 

Unite is the only NHS union staging walkouts in Wales today, after others called off planned strikes after the Welsh Government offered an improved pay offer of an extra 3 per cent on Friday.

Ms Graham said Unite is ‘tantalisingly close’ to a deal but the ‘sticking point’ is that half of the pay increase is a one-off payment. 

She said: ‘What we’re simply asking is to put more of that on the wages, so that people have that forever, it’s in their pay packet, because that will address some of the concerns.’

Striking GMB ambulance workers picket outside Fazakerley Ambulance Station in Liverpool on February 6

Striking GMB ambulance workers picket outside Fazakerley Ambulance Station in Liverpool on February 6

Striking GMB ambulance workers picket outside Fazakerley Ambulance Station in Liverpool on February 6

Striking GMB ambulance workers picket outside Fazakerley Ambulance Station in Liverpool on February 6

Striking GMB ambulance workers picket outside Fazakerley Ambulance Station in Liverpool on February 6

Striking GMB ambulance workers picket outside Fazakerley Ambulance Station in Liverpool on February 6

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Today represents a very significant moment. 

‘Having both ambulance workers and nurses out means that the logistical planning exercise for trusts has been a significant one.’

With fewer ambulances on the road and nurses in hospital, bosses have been working to discharge patients from hospital and rebook both surgery and outpatient appointments, he said.

Sir Julian said: ‘We do expect to have significant disruption in terms of planned care, outpatients and electives, but obviously making sure we deliver the priority of patient safety for urgent and emergency care.’

He called on the Government to open talks with nurses and warned strikes ‘really takes away’ from clearing the record backlog and the emergency care recovery.  

Sir Julian added: ‘We can’t go on with a series of industrial action that really takes away from focusing on those prioritise. 

‘I can’t overstate the amount of work that goes on in organisations to manage and mitigate for industrial action. Our focus needs to be on delivering for patients as the NHS in those key areas.’

Following the action this week, ambulance staff have announced strikes for February 20 and March 6 and 20. 

Junior doctors could also join the action later in the year with the British Medical Association currently balloting its members on strike action.

Where are the strikes today? 

NURSES STRIKES ON FEBRUARY 6 AND 7

East Midlands

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust

Eastern 

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust 

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

London

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust 

St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

North West

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Wrightington Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation TrusT

Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Found Trust 

St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust 

Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust 

North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust 

Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Found Trust – 6 Feb / 7 Feb

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Found Trust

The Christie NHS Foundation Trust 

Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust

Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust

Northern

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust 

The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust

Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust 

North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust

South East

University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust

Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust

East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust

South East Coast Ambulance Service 

South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust 

South West

Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust

University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust

Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust 

Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust

University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust

Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust

Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust 

North Bristol NHS Trust

Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust 

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust

South Western Ambulance Service NHS Found Trust

West Midlands

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Yorkshire & Humber

Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust

The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

AMBULANCE STRIKES ON FEBRUARY 6

East Midlands Ambulance Service

North East Ambulance Service 

North West Ambulance Service 

West Midlands Ambulance Service

South East Coast Ambulance Service 

South Central Ambulance Service 

South Western Ambulance Service

Yorkshire Ambulance Service 

Wales Ambulance Service

source: dailymail.co.uk