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Public health service | UK sees biggest strike day ever



(London) The British public health system experienced the largest day of strike in its history on Monday, nurses and paramedics having decided to strike in concert to demand wage increases.

As teachers, railway workers and border guards did last week in a day of social mobilization unparalleled in a decade in the UK, staff from the NHS, the public and free health service, joined the pickets strike early Monday morning.

“Understaffed. Undervalued. Underpaid”, denounces a sign brandished by two nurses from Saint-Thomas Hospital in London. “Patients are sick, we are tired,” read another.


Demonstration outside St. Thomas’s Hospital, London

Postponed operations, totally overwhelmed emergencies, waits of several hours for ambulances… The NHS, which until a few years ago was the pride of the British, is going through a deep crisis, weakened by the austerity policies implemented for more than 10 years and the consequences of the pandemic. Since its creation in 1948, it had never faced a strike of such magnitude, with tens of thousands of nurses and paramedics stopping work for the first time on the same day.

They are demanding a pay rise as the United Kingdom, where inflation exceeds 10%, faces a severe cost of living crisis. But they come up against a conservative government which refuses any negotiation in the face of this movement supported by public opinion.

The nurses will be on strike again on Tuesday. Physiotherapists will disengage on Thursday. And paramedics will be back on the picket lines on Friday. The whole week therefore promises to be difficult in hospitals.


Demonstration outside St. Thomas’s Hospital, London

The organization which represents hospitals, NHS Providers, urged the public to use emergency services “reasonably” and warned that the service was approaching a “critical point”.

“It’s going to be a real challenge,” said Saffron Cordery, deputy director of NHS Providers. She urged the government to sit around the table with the unions to find an agreement on wages for 2022/23 and then for next year.

“Dizzying increase in costs”

“NHS staff have had to deal with skyrocketing costs of living and inflation,” she told Sky News television.

According to their union, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the pay of nurses has fallen by almost 20% in ten years in real terms due to the budget freeze imposed on the NHS since the financial crisis of 2008.

In some hospitals, food banks have been opened for staff.

However, the government of Rishi Sunak, which said last week that it had no “magic wand”, is not moving.

Health Minister Steve Barclay has repeatedly expressed concern that wage hikes will worsen inflation.

And Monday’s move led to the cancellation of 80,000 appointments and 11,000 operations, he claimed during a visit to a London hospital.

For the leader of the opposition, Labor Keir Starmer, this strike is a “badge of shame” for the government after 13 years of conservative power.

“If we are to give nurses a pay raise, we will also have to look at teachers, paramedics,” pleaded the Secretary of State for Mental Health Maria Caulfield.


Servicemen move among ambulances parked at Waterloo Station, London.

Teachers were on strike on 1er FEBRUARY. The movement has also affected railway workers for months, but also the post office, the border police, etc. It would cost “billions of pounds”, according to the minister.

The nurses’ strike movement mainly affects England because negotiations are underway elsewhere.

“The government chose to punish nurses in England instead of coming around the table and talking to me about pay like they did in Wales and Scotland,” said Pat Cullen, the Secretary General of the RCN.

On the ambulance side, for Sharon Graham, the head of Unite union, “the real problem is that at no time has this government addressed the fundamental question of remuneration”. She warned of a “constant cycle” of strikes if the government stuck to its guns.

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