In an unprecedented show of sector-wide dissatisfaction, British nurses will go on strike on 15 and 20 December – a move unseen in 106 years. The action highlights the severity of the social crisis in the UK with walkouts in many sectors not seen for decades.
"Nurses have had enough," said Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nurses (RCN). "Enough of low pay, enough of not being able to give patients the care they deserve.
Staff voted on 9 November in favour of the strike, the first in the 106-year history of the RCN. The union announced two days of action on Friday, 15 and 20 December, after “the government rejected negotiations”.
According to estimates, the real wages of nurses have fallen 20% since 2010, partly due to the current cost of living crisis, with UK inflation now at over 11%. The annual salary for a junior nurse is £27,000 gross (€31,400).
Health minister Steve Barclay says “it’s a difficult time for everyone” and the government cannot meet the RCN’s “unaffordable” demands, which “represent a 19.2% pay rise”.
One in four hospitals has set up food banks to support staff, according to NHS Providers, which represents hospital groups in England. The strike comes at a time when the NHS, which has been underfunded for years, is in deep crisis.
The government has announced a £3.3 billion increase in the NHS budget next year and the year after. According to the RCN, there are 47,000 unfilled nursing posts in England. Last year, 25,000 nurses or midwives who worked in the public sector walked out.