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UK NHS buckling: Nurses’ strikes could last until end of year, union warns

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
NHS staff march in a protest against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine rules, in London, Britain, January 22, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

British nurses’ strike in England could continue until the end of the year if their pay demands are not met by the government, the Royal College of Nursing union (RCN) has warned, as the whole country is grappling with a wave of industrial actions across different sectors.

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, general secretary of the RCN, Pat Cullen, said that the union would “absolutely not” pause strike action at the government’s request, after its members rejected an offer of a 5 percent increase in wages.

Her comments came after the RCN announced that its members are preparing for a two-day strike over the coming bank holiday weekend, which will for the first time include nurses working in emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care, and other services.

The RCN also plans to ballot members for a fresh six-month strike mandate, despite warnings by authorities that further strikes by health staff could put patients’ lives at risk.

Although Royal Mail and rail sector dispute inch towards a resolution, doctors and teaching unions are considering further strikes, which means that public sector strikes could continue till the end of the year.

The warning by the RCN comes on the heels of an industrial action by junior doctor members of the British Medical Association (BMA), who staged a four-day strike last week that placed intense strains on both emergency services and scheduled care.

Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health organizations across England, warned that even before the BMA’s walkout, industrial action had led to the cancellation of over 330,000 scheduled procedures.

Cordery further said that the NHS faced “a really ugly situation” that would pose “significant risks” to the public and would prompt health authorities to focus on managing strikes rather than addressing the health issues.

“It’s really clear to me that it’s not sustainable going forward for the NHS to manage strike action . . . We really need the government to come to the table,” she said.

The strike planned by RCN members would be the latest in a wave of disruptive labor actions by public sector workers in the UK, demanding pay hikes to offset inflation that exceeds 10 percent.

A cost-of-living crisis driven by sharp food and energy price increases has left the British people struggling to pay bills as union wages have fallen in real terms over the past decade. The Conservative government argues that pay increases would drive inflation even higher.

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