(London) In the aftermath of the nurses, British paramedics are preparing to go on strike on Wednesday, joining a social movement that affects multiple sectors, but in the face of which the government remains inflexible.
In a United Kingdom that is bent under inflation at more than 10%, many sectors – employees of the railways, logistics, ambulance workers, border police officers, airports, etc. – have decided to strike at the end of the year, and for many also at the beginning of January.
Wednesday is the turn of thousands of paramedics, who are demanding a pay rise, to join the movement. A strike that greatly worries about the repercussions it could have in hospitals. About 750 soldiers were mobilized to replace striking paramedics.
“Many leaders of the NHS (the public health system, editor’s note) tell us that they cannot guarantee patient safety tomorrow,” warned Matthew Taylor, the director of the NHS Confederation which represents hospitals in England. “Clearly we have entered dangerous territory,” he wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Health Secretary Will Quince called on the BBC on Thursday for Britons to avoid “risky activities”, before detailing: jogging on an icy road, a contact sport, or even a “pointless car ride “.
An official from the NHS, the public health service, called for “reasonable steps” to be taken, including “drinking responsibly”.
Matthew Taylor urged the Prime Minister to quickly put an end to the conflict between the government and the unions, asking him to agree to “negotiate” on wages. But the government is sticking to its guns.
Health Minister Steve Barclay met with the unions on Wednesday, but without advancing on a solution. “It is disappointing that some unions are continuing their strike action – my door remains open for further discussion,” he tweeted after the meeting. The demands of the unions are, according to him, “unaffordable” for the country.
Onay Kasab, an official of the Unite union, deemed the meeting “totally useless” because of the minister’s “refusal” to discuss salaries. “How does he hope to get things moving and resolve the conflict without discussing the key issue? “, he questioned.
On Tuesday, the nurses were again mobilized, after a first walkout last Thursday. They want a substantial increase, after years of belt-tightening in a chronically underfunded public health care system.
The nurses, on strike for the first time in their union’s existence more than a hundred years, have become a symbol of the crisis in the cost of living.
“It’s not just the pay, it’s the working conditions”, “patient care”, said Emily, a nurse in Liverpool, who points to the large number of nurses leaving the profession.
For thirty years in the profession, her colleague Pauline argues that previously, in order to be able to “have fun” with a nurse’s salary, “we worked on public holidays and overtime”. Now, it’s simply to “make ends meet” that you have to do it.
If the British criticize some of these movements which sometimes upset their plans for Christmas, nurses enjoy strong support in the population. Because they have been on the front line during the COVID-19 pandemic and are undergoing a crisis that has affected the highly respected public and free health system for years.
According to a YouGov poll published on Tuesday, two-thirds of Britons support nurses’ strikes, 63% that of paramedics. They are 43% to support those of the rail.
This popularity puts pressure on the government, which has so far shown itself to be inflexible, refusing to raise the salary increase for nurses of around 4.75% planned for this year, which corresponds to the recommendation of an expert body, and even to negotiate directly.
“I recognize that it is difficult. It’s difficult for everyone, because inflation is where it is,” Rishi Sunak told the heads of parliamentary committees on Tuesday afternoon.
” The best way […] to help everyone in the country is that we get our act together and bring inflation down as quickly as possible,” he repeated once again.