Thousands of British nurses will go on strike on December 15 and 20 for more pay, their union said on Friday, adding to a winter of industrial action and putting further pressure on the state-run health system.
The strikes are the first of possibly several strikes by National Health Service (NHS) nurses, which come after the government refused to meet demands for pay rises of 5% above inflation.
“Nursing staff have had enough of being taken for granted, enough of low pay and precarious staffing levels, enough of not being able to give our patients the care they deserve,” said Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen.
Mr Cullen said the government had declined formal negotiations in the two weeks since the RCN announced nurses would go on strike for the first time in the union’s 106-year history.
British Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the nurses’ demands would amount to a 19.2% pay rise costing 10 billion pounds ($12.13 billion) a year, and that the government would give them raises of at least 1,400 pounds each this year.
“These are challenging times for everyone and the financial circumstances mean the RCN’s demands … are not affordable,” Mr Barclay said.
He said the NHS had plans in place to minimize any disruption from the strikes and ensure continuity of emergency services.
The strikes will increase pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as Britain faces a looming economic recession and a cost-of-living crisis with inflation hitting a 41-year high of 11.1% in October.
The NHS, which has provided healthcare free at the point of use since 1948, is now dealing with a record 7 million patients on hospital waiting lists. Accident and emergency departments are also under pressure.
“Why on Earth is the Health Minister refusing to negotiate with nurses?” said opposition Labor Party health spokesman Wes Streeting.
“Patients already can’t get treated on time, strikes are the last thing they need, but the government is allowing this to happen.”