Historical Strike Action by UK Nurses

Historical Strike Action by UK Nurses

Updated · 2 min reading

For the first time in the 106 year history of the Royal College of Nursing, nurses across the UK took strike action. 

Nurses in every service in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted for action, whereas in Wales there was one health board that voted against it. In England, staff in 131 NHS organisations voted for action - although this was slightly lower than originally expected. 

Why are Nurses Striking?

There are a number of reasons why many nurses are unhappy with their current working conditions - which were already stretched before the Covid 19 pandemic. 

However this strike relates specifically to the failure of the UK government to answer calls from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) for a rise in wages of 5% above the RPI inflation rate which currently stands at above 12%. 

The government proposed a rise of 4% which took the average basic annual pay for nurses to approx £37,000 in March 2022. Union officials say that since 2010, the pay of some experienced nurses has fallen by 20% in real terms.

When will the strikes take place?

So the first strike occurred today on the 15th December, with a second strike date planned on the 20th December

How will care be affected? 

Non urgent care was affected, but emergency care was not. Services that felt the effects included: 

  • Planned operations

  • District nursing 

  • Mental health care

The overall care provided was similar to that of a Christmas Day service. 

It’s worth noting that the care provided varied dramatically between different hospitals and different departments. 

The RCN stated that industrial action must follow the life-preserving care model which exempts situations including: 

  • emergency intervention for the preservation of life or the prevention of permanent disability

  • care required for therapeutic services without which life would be jeopardised or permanent disability would occur

  • urgent diagnostic procedures and assessment required to obtain information on potentially life-threatening conditions or conditions that could potentially lead to permanent disability

What are nurses saying about the strikes?

Very few nurses enter the career solely to make money, and it’s clear that the majority of nurses (just like other healthcare professionals) want to do their jobs and do them well. However the RCN say that there is a need to ‘send up distress flares about the state of their service’. 

Many nurses agree that they are taking action for ‘our pay, your health’ and that there are issues of safety that need to be addressed as standards of care slip further and mistakes are increasingly made on overcrowded wards by overworked staff.

Nurses are concerned that not only are their colleagues leaving the profession (there are a record 47,000 vacancies in England) but the level of new entrants has dropped by 8% in the last year alone.  

Nurses are at the heart of the NHS, alongside an array of both clinical and non-clinical staff. Whilst their work may be described as a vocation, that does not mean they should be forced to accept substandard pay and conditions. The wellbeing of nurses is an essential requirement for a functioning healthcare system.

Moving forwards

Mental health and wellbeing is a major issue amongst nurses and it’s essential that the workforce feel valued and treated with respect. 

To retain the staff we do have and attract newcomers to the profession, we need to create a positive work culture and environment. Once that is underway, we can take the necessary strides to to rebuild the healthcare system and restore the reputation of UK nursing to its former glory.

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