Nurses on strike say people are dying in Britain’s health service

NHS nurses hold banners during a strike, amid a dispute with the government over pay, in London. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON – Nurses said people are dying unnecessarily in Britain’s beleaguered National Health Service (NHS) as they kicked off two more days of strikes for higher pay.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) held its latest walkout on Wednesday across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with Health Secretary Steve Barclay warning that the industrial action will hurt patients.

But Ms Pat Cullen, the union’s general-secretary, said: “People aren’t dying because nurses are striking. Nurses are striking because people are dying.”

Mr Barclay said on Tuesday that around 30,000 appointments were cancelled due to the previous two days of nurses’ strikes in December.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt said, meanwhile, the best way to help workers was to bring down inflation. The government has repeatedly argued that generous raises would risk a wage-price spiral.

“Today’s figures show there is no room for any deviation from our central objective of the year to halve inflation. So, we deal with the anger of public sector workers,” Mr Hunt said after the rate of price increases dipped for a second month but remained at 10.5 per cent.

Inflation must be tackled so that workers “can see an end to this very insidious erosion of their pay packets”, he added.

The RCN has announced further walkouts on Feb 6 to 7 that will affect 73 NHS trusts, compared to 55 on Wednesday. The strikes in February will not take place in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Strikes are building up across the NHS, with ambulance workers due to protest again next week and junior doctors balloting for action, as workers reject pay rises that fail to keep up with inflation.

Unions are keen to talk about their pay package in 2023. Although there was some indication from the government this could happen, Mr Barclay stressed the government’s original position that negotiations should deal with 2024’s pay.

“I have had constructive talks with the Royal College of Nursing and other unions about the 2023-24 pay process and look forward to continuing that dialogue,” he said.

Despite the disruption to the NHS, the nurses’ plight has prompted public sympathy. A YouGov poll published on Tuesday suggested 63 per cent supported their strike.

Mr Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation, which represents state health care providers in England and Wales, has urged ministers to renew pay talks with trade unions.

“Our message to the government is to give the NHS a fighting chance and do all you can to bring an end to this damaging dispute,” he said. BLOOMBERG, AFP

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