NHS staff plan two further strikes for the new year

NHS staff in England are set to take part in another round of strikes in the new year as trade unions escalate the level of industrial action in their pay dispute with the government.

The announcement comes in a joint statement from NHS trade unions, it says the strikes are set to take place on 29 January and 24 February with individual unions to announce the specific action they will take. 

The unions decided not to take strike action over Christmas and New Year period as this could have a serious impact on patient safety.

Unison have announced that their members will walkout for 12 hours on 29 January – tripling the length of the previous two strikes – followed by working to rule from 30 January and 24 February. On 25 February they will then strike for 24 hours.

Christina McAnea Unison head of health said: "We warned months ago that this dispute is here to stay unless the government and NHS employers are prepared to negotiate with us.”

She added: "We now have no option but to escalate and plan for longer strikes.  The anger among health workers has reached levels where they are now ready to walk out for 24 hours.  NHS staff have been singled out by this coalition government for the worst treatment across the public sector.”

GMB members in the ambulance service in England and Northern Ireland are considering a 48-hour continuous strike as part of their contribution to the industrial action.

The two-day stoppage in the ambulance service, should it go ahead, will commence at noon on 29 January and will continue until noon on 31 January.

GMB says it will issue the necessary formal notices to NHS employers in the coming weeks.

Rehana Azam, GMB NHS national officer, said "It is regrettable that GMB has no alternative but to escalate the strike action in the NHS. The secretary of state for health, Jeremy Hunt, is acting irresponsibly with a continued entrenched position by not engaging in any meaningful talks with the health unions.

“This dispute is escalating. The consequences could mean a third wave of strikes across the NHS and we will be consulting members on a two day strike on 29 & 30 January in the Ambulance Service.”

Steve Rice, GMB ambulance chair, added: "I have worked for the Ambulance Service for almost four decades and in this time I have worked under 17 Secretaries of State for Health. Never have I experienced staff morale at such a breaking point.”

Other unions have not yet announced the action they will be taking, however the Royal College of Midwives have confirmed to NHE that they will at least take action short of a strike, such as working to rule, in the week of the 29 January.

The unions are taking action 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. 

In October it is estimated about 400,000 staff and six unions took part in the first round of strikes. Nine unions took part in the second round of action in November and it appears it will continue to escalate.

Responding to the announcement of further strikes Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said: “NHS staff have received either an increment (worth around 3.4%) or a 1% pay award this year. Employers are of course disappointed that a number of trade unions will again seek to disrupt the delivery of care, impacting on patients and their families as well as their colleagues.

“This is one of the busiest periods for the NHS. We hope that trade union members will maintain their previous constructive approach, so that the most urgent patients continue to receive the care and treatment they need.

“Discussions continue with trade unions regarding pay, though agreement has, we acknowledge, been difficult to reach. Employers continue to be clear that they cannot afford further increases in pay at this time.

“A pay award for all staff on top of increments would have the equivalent of 14,000 newly qualified nurses, which could have put further pressure on the health service and staff as they strive to give safe, quality patient care.”

In a joint statement from the unions, Christina McAnea, chair of the joint NHS trade unions, said: "NHS workers, as ever, are putting the safety of patients first by not taking industrial action over the Christmas and New Year periods when staffing levels are already stretched because of their concerns over patient safety.

“But the government and NHS employers are showing a total disregard for patient safety by refusing to enter into any meaningful negotiations to try and resolve this dispute. We have no option but to escalate the industrial action by taking longer strikes. NHS workers are being treated worse than any other part of the public sector - they have had their pay frozen or held down for five years and many face serious hardship especially at Christmas."

(Image: c. Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

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