British nurses will strike over pay, the Royal College of Nursing said on Wednesday, announcing the first UK-wide strike action in the union’s 106-year history.
“Results of our biggest ever strike ballot show record numbers of nursing staff are prepared to join picket lines this winter,” it said. Britain’s health minister Steve Barclay described the decision as “disappointing”.
The move comes amid a cost-of-living crisis that the union says has left its members struggling to feed their families and pay their bills.
The industrial action is expected to begin before the end of the year, with dates to be announced soon.
Bosses in the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) said in September that nurses were skipping meals to feed and clothe their children and were struggling to afford rising transport costs.
One in four hospitals has set up foodbanks to support staff, NHS Providers, which represents hospital groups in England.
“This is a defining moment in our history, and our fight will continue through strike action and beyond for as long as it takes to win justice for the nursing profession and our patients,” RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said.
“Anger has become action –- our members are saying enough is enough,” she added.
– Record nursing vacancies –
The RCN is calling for a pay rise of five percent above inflation.
Barclay said the government would work to limit the impact of the strikes on patients in a sector already hit by staff shortages since Brexit and a backlog of appointment delays since the pandemic.
He said the government had accepted independent pay recommendations and given over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 ($1,590) this year, on top of a three-percent increase last year when public sector pay was frozen.
“We are all hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of NHS staff, including nurses, and deeply regret that some union members have voted for industrial action,” he added.
Recent months have seen a wave of industrial action in the UK as workers struggle against cost-of-living increases due to hikes in energy prices and soaring inflation.
Tens of thousands of staff in various industries — from the postal and legal systems to ports and telecommunications — have gone one strike across Britain since the summer.
The RCN says there are currently record nursing vacancies with 25,000 staff having left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register in the last year.
The government says nurses are effectively asking for a 17.6 percent pay rise which would cost an extra £9 billion ($10 billion).
This, it says, is at a time when average pay settlements in the private sector is in the range of four to six percent.