United Kingdom

Why are NHS staff striking?

NHS health workers including Midwives protest outside the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading© PA NHS health workers including Midwives protest outside the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading Last year, the independent NHS Pay Review Body, whose judgments ministers have traditionally honoured, said that all NHS staff in England deserved a 1% payrise from 1 April 2014 and that the service, despite growing financial pressure, could afford it. After two years of pay freezes and another year of just a 1% rise in salary, staff were grateful for, though not bowled over by, the planned 1%.However, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, cancelled the recommended across-the-board increase. Instead, he said, only the roughly half of NHS employees who do not receive annual pay increments – small salary uplifts that recognise a person’s skills, duties or length of service – would get the 1%. Everyone else would receive only their usual increment, which is worth about 3% on their salary.So the Department of Health insists that everyone will be receiving “1% additional pay” in 2014-15. They will. However, that is much less than the recommended 1% universal pay rise.

Health unions also point out that the 1% being received by some staff is a one-off payment and will not be consolidated into their pay, and thus is not paid on unsocial hours, overtime, callout or standby payments, or count towards their pension.

How will the strike affect services?

The level of disruption to services will vary widely and depend on the number of staff joining the strike, the mitigating impact of the NHS’s contingency planning and how many patients need acute care, such as A&E care or surgery. The four-hour walkout between 7am and 11am is occurring on a Monday, which is usually the NHS’s busiest day.

The unions involved have stressed that patient care and patient safety will not be compromised. Anyone needing urgent or emergency care will still get it. For example, midwives tending to women in labour will remain with them throughout.

But the action will lead to planned operations and outpatient clinics being postponed in some places. Ambulance services may prove to be the most affected. About 100 military personnel will drive ambulances in greater London and another 30 will do the same in the north-west, covering for drivers who are on strike. In the capital, 74 Metropolitan Police vehicles will also respond to calls involving low levels of medical need.

The London Ambulance Service (LAS) will also be using managers in frontline roles and relying on private sector ambulance providers to supply extra capacity. It has already warned that “people with injuries such as minor breaks, women in routine labour, some patients with breathing difficulties or those involved in minor road traffic accidents will be given clinical advice, provided with alternative transport or told to make their own way to hospital.”

Will there be more strikes?

There will definitely be a second strike next Monday, 20 October, but this time involving only radiographers belonging to the Society of Radiographers. In its ballot, 53% of participants backed a walkout. Their four-hour stoppage from 9am will not affect emergency care, but may lead to some patients not having their planned X-ray, CT or MRI scan or mammogram at the pre-booked time.

In addition, further action by some or all of the seven unions involved on Monday 13 October – Unison, Unite, the GMB, Royal College of Midwives, Managers in Partnership, the British Association of Occupational Therapists and Ucatt – is highly likely. Legally, the results of their ballots allow them to mount another stoppage.

Officials at several unions privately believe a second coordinated stoppage is inevitable, unless Jeremy Hunt backs down, which looks highly unlikely.

The unions will meet on Tuesday 21 October to review the impact of Monday’s action, and how it was perceived by the public, and decide on their future plans.

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