(London) After a historic first strike in December, thousands of nurses again stopped work on Wednesday in England for two days, demanding better wages and working conditions, in a United Kingdom faced with high inflation.
Nearly a quarter of public health services were affected.
After years of lean times, nurses are demanding increases 5% higher than inflation, which reached 10.5% in December, down very slightly from November (10.7%).
Talks between Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government and the main nurses’ union, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), have stalled. After a first two-day strike in December, unheard of in a century of the union’s existence, two more strike days are announced for February 6 and 7, affecting more hospitals.
While strikes affect many other sectors, nurses will be joined by thousands of paramedics and staff from this sector on February 6, at the call of the GMB union which announced four new days of strike on Wednesday, the 6 and 20 February and March 6 and 20.
The nurses are not only protesting for better wages, but also against the deterioration of working conditions.
“If I had to choose a training course today, I wouldn’t be a nurse. It’s such a hard job right now, ”explains Orla Dooley, 29, 10 of whom as a nurse. “It’s something I loved, it’s really sad.”
On this freezing morning, she joined the picket line in support of the strikers after her night shift at St. George’s Hospital in London.
It often lacks “10, 12 nurses, or half of the workforce”, she underlines. “Patient safety issues don’t just happen on strike days, but every day.”
The fate of patients is at the center of their concerns, assure the strikers.
Going on strike is “the last thing you want to do,” says Steven Bedford, who works in mental health. “We know that the emergency room is probably going to have a hard time today, but we have to be heard”.
The government, which wants to pass a law establishing a minimum service in certain sectors, including health, denounces the disruption that these strikes will cause for the population in the middle of winter.
With “47,000 vacancies” in England, “I don’t know how the government is going to do” to introduce a minimum service, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen told ITV. She also called on the government to return to the negotiating table.
Health Minister Steve Barclay has called a 10% raise for nurses “unaffordable”, stressing that it would cost 3.6 billion pounds a year ($5.93 billion). “It would take money away from the service of patients,” he added when visiting a hospital in Harrow (north-west London).
According to him, the two-day nurses’ walkout in December led to the cancellation of 30,000 operations and appointments.
According to the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, this new strike could lead to the cancellation of 4,500 operations and 25,000 appointments.
Its chairman, Matthew Taylor, called on the government to “do everything it can to end this damaging conflict” for the public health service, the NHS.
“We don’t think this is the right way to act, we continue to call on the unions to leave the picket lines and continue the discussions,” said a spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, also referring to the upcoming teachers’ strike from 1er February, to which will be added a new walkout by the railway workers.
The nurses movement is the most popular of all that has rocked the UK in recent months, facing its worst social crisis in decades.
According to an Ipsos poll for the PA agency, 57% of Britons believe the government is most to blame for the lengthy nurses’ strike.
82% of those questioned feel sympathy for the nurses and 80% for the paramedics.