NHS faces a week of industrial action starting Monday

The NHS faces a week of industrial action from up to 500,000 employees starting on Monday as staff prepare to walk out over pay for the first time in 32 years.

As previously reported by NHE, members of Unison, which represents 300,000 NHS staff in England, along with Unite and its 100,000 personnel and GMB and the Royal College of Midwives, who have about 30,000 members each, are all set for industrial action next week.

Staff will stage a four-hour walkout between 7am and 11am on Monday. This will be followed by four days of action short of a strike, such as insisting on taking statutory rest and meal breaks and not working unpaid overtime, between Tuesday 14 October and Friday 17 October.

The action is being taken over the government’s decision to institute a below-inflation 1% non-consolidated pay rise, which the 600,000 staff who receive progression pay increases over 1% will not receive. The government ignored the recommendations of the NHS Pay Review Body, which specifically said that a non-consolidated pay award could have an “adverse impact on staff engagement and motivation” and recommended against it. 

Today NHS Employers urged staff considering participating in the strike to rethink their decision and “not draw patients into the argument between the government and trades unions over pay”.

Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, of which NHS Employers is a part, said that this is one of the toughest times in the history of the NHS. He pointed out that a pay award for all staff would have cost £450m more, which would have been the equivalent of hiring 14,000 newly qualified nurses.

“Hard-pressed staff would have been put under greater pressure or may have had to be reduced,” he said. “Restraining pay was a tough decision for politicians to make and I believe they did it on the basis of improving the quality of care and maintaining continuity of services.

“Ahead of Monday, employers are pulling out all the stops to minimise disruption to patients and unions are co-operating with this planning ahead of the strike to ensure patients remain safe. I know that thousands of patients will already be anxious because important NHS services, such as ambulance cover, will be under additional pressure on the day and during the week of action short of a strike that will follow it. If appointments have to be rescheduled this would cause unnecessary distress and we urge staff to reconsider taking part in the strike.

“Only around 4% of more than one million NHS staff voted to take strike action on Monday. We hope many will make the right choice for patients and not participate in any industrial action, which risks more inconvenience to patients and difficulty planning emergency and acute care.”

Union sources say that nothing will be done during industrial action to compromise patient safety. Nurses belonging to Unison who are looking after acutely-ill patients in ICU will keep working, as will members of the Royal College of Midwives caring for women who are in labour during the action.

GMB has been working with ambulance trusts to make sure that there will still be appropriate paramedic cover for life-threatening situations.

Speaking after the vote to strike, Royal College of Midwives chief executive Cathy Warwick said: “Our members have suffered three years of pay restraint and face the prospect that their pay in 2016 will only be 1% higher than it was in 2010.

“The recommendations from all public sector pay review bodies have been followed except those for health workers. This is not acceptable.”

Last week NHS radiographers also voted to strike over pay, however due to the late ballot they will not be taking action until Monday 20 October.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "We are disappointed that Unison is planning industrial action and has rejected our proposals to give NHS staff at least 1% additional pay this year and at least a further 1% next year.

"NHS staff are our greatest asset and we know they are working extremely hard. This is why despite tough financial times, we've protected the NHS budget and now have 13,500 more clinical staff than in 2010. We want to protect these increases and cannot afford incremental pay increases – which disproportionately reward the highest earners – on top of a general pay rise without risking frontline NHS jobs.

"We remain keen to meet with the unions to discuss how we can work together to make the NHS pay system fairer and more affordable.”

(Image: Library picture of Unite ambulance strike on 2 April 2013 c. Lynne Cameron/PA Wire)

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