Nurses begin 28-hour strike as huge march through London planned

Members of the Royal College of Nursing union on the picket line outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham today (Picture: PA)

NHS services across England will face major disruption today after nurses walked out in a 28-hour strike over pay.

The strike, which will end just before midnight, comes after a High Court judge ruled it would be ‘unlawful’ for the industrial action to continue into Tuesday as originally planned.

Later today there will also be a huge march as thousands of NHS workers head through central London in protest at the poor pay offer from the government.

Union leader Pat Cullen urged Health Secretary Steve Barclay ‘not to be disrespectful’ to nurses amid what is their ‘biggest strike yet.’

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary’s comment came after Mr Barclay described their ongoing industrial action as ‘premature’ and ‘disrespectful.

Under the NHS Staff Council, the unions will consider the offer of a 5% pay increase for 2023/24 along with a one-off payment worth between £1,655 and £3,789 for the current financial year for nurses in England.

Thousands of nurses will take action over pay today (Picture: PA)
The 28 hour strike will last until midnight (Picture: PA)
It was deemed ‘unlawful’ to carry on the strike until tomorrow (Picture: PA)

Thousands of nurses walked out at 8pm on Sunday including nursing staff from emergency departments, intensive care and cancer care for the first time.

It follows concerns over the impact of the strike action on patient safety.

The union initially said it would not agree to derogations – broad areas of care where staffing is guaranteed despite industrial action – but granted some exemptions on Friday in an apparent U-turn.

Dozens of angry nurses gathered outside London’s University College Hospital, this morning, chanting and singing, as thousands of their colleagues took industrial action.

Waving placards demanding fair pay and stating ‘Enough is enough’, they asked ‘How am I supposed to live?’ on their current pay, and said they are unable to provide acceptable care to patients due to staffing issues.

As staff lined the steps of the hospital, cancer care staff nurse Preya Assi, from Hackney, east London, said: ‘This is a culmination of our pay not reflecting the hours we are working.

‘The last decade has made things considerably worse.

It is set to be a huge walkout by NHS staff(Picture: PA)

‘Our colleagues are out in force because things have got so bad that we cannot pay our rent or our bills, we are relying on food banks.’

The 36-year-old went on: ‘We have spent the last few years fighting the pandemic.

‘It matters to us and the care we provide matters to us.

‘The fact the Government are not looking at our pay has caused us to do this.’

University College Hospital intensive care nurse Juliannah Adewumi began her career in Nigeria and has spent 40 years working in Africa, Australia, America and England.

She said: ‘It’s a profession that I love, I love caring for people, and when I started the job it was not like this.

‘The money was small, but it was sufficient, and we were proud of being a nurse.

‘The definition of nursing is about caring for people and making them comfortable if they are at the end of their lives, but how is that possible when there is one nurse having to look after 10 patients at a time because we’re short-staffed?’

Speaking about pay, she continued: ‘How am I supposed to live?

Thousands of members of staff will march through London today (Picture: PA)

‘If I don’t pay my council tax, they take me to court, or if I don’t pay my rent, I lose my home.

‘At 70 I’m still working; what life is that?

‘They are clapping for us but refuse to pay us properly.

‘If they (politicians) were here, I would tell them to their faces.

‘If you were in any other country, they do not play with their nurses.

‘Yesterday we were short of two nurses and there was one nurse looking after 12 patients.’

On Monday morning, Ms Cullen defended nurses and urged Mr Barclay to ‘get round this table immediately’ to resolve the dispute.

She told Sky News: ‘There’s certainly no disrespect being shown from our nursing staff, I can say that categorically.

‘I would ask the Secretary of State not to be disrespectful to those hundreds of thousands of nursing staff that have participated in this ballot and that are losing another day’s pay today, standing out on picket lines – standing up for our health service that’s been totally broken by this Government.

‘An NHS in crisis, seven million-plus people on waiting lists – so how are we going to address all of those issues, how are we going to address tens of thousands of vacant posts that we’ve got in England?

‘If we don’t, then we will continue with serious risk to patient safety and we will never get the backlog sorted.

‘So, it really is incumbent on this Secretary of State to get round this table immediately with myself and the Royal College of Nursing, and put more money (on the table) and let our nursing staff get back and do what they want to do, and that is care for our patients.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, told Sky that strikes have ‘taken a heavy toll’ on services and urged unions to accept the pay deal.

‘I think our view now is that given that most staff have voted in favour of this deal, it is time to accept it, for the unions to work together and for us to think more long-term about what we need to do to address that crisis of 120,000 vacancies in the health service,’ he said.

‘Obviously we’d rather these strikes were not taking place. They come after six months of on-and-off industrial action which has taken a heavy toll on the NHS.’

Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) is among organisations where nurses have agreed to derogations after it voiced ‘serious concerns’ about patient safety during the walkout.

The hospital said it was ‘incredibly grateful’ to RCN members for offering assurances but took the decision not to stand down a ‘business continuity incident’ until it was confident it could staff services during the strike.

The Unite walkout follows the rejection of the Government’s pay offer by its members.

The union said that with inflation still in double figures, the offer is a ‘substantial real-terms pay cut’ for NHS workers.

Unite members at South Central, South East Coast and West Midlands ambulance trusts alongside workers at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, The Christie Pathology Partnership, East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust and Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust will all take part in industrial action on May 2.

NHS England warned that staffing levels in some areas of the country today will be ‘exceptionally low, lower than on previous strike days’.

It added the number of rescheduled appointments due to strike action is set to hit half a million next week.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said the 28-hour nursing strike is ‘premature’ and ‘disrespectful’ to other unions.

The comments come ahead of a meeting of the NHS Staff Council, made up of health unions, employers and Government representatives, which will discuss the Government’s 5% pay offer.

‘I think this strike is premature and is disrespectful to those trade unions that will be meeting on Tuesday,’ he told broadcasters.

Pat Cullen (centre) with nurses outside of the High Court last week (Picture: EPA)

But Ms Cullen said there are national exemptions in place for ‘those really acute urgent services’.

Urging the public to use NHS services wisely, NHS England asked those who need non-urgent care to go to pharmacies or dial 111 as their first port of call.

Dame Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said: ‘We are grateful to the RCN for agreeing a process of safety critical mitigations and we continue to support all nurses, those who work and those who take industrial action.

‘These mitigations do not represent a return to standard staffing. The industrial action will still have a very significant impact on services during the strike period and patients can expect to see longer waits for care.

‘The public should use the NHS wisely, with those needing non-urgent care using pharmacies and 111 online as their first port of call. And if you have a life-threatening emergency, please seek help in the usual way by dialling 999.’

Nurses make up a quarter of NHS staff and are the biggest proportion of the health service workforce.

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