‘Nurses Have Had Enough’: Largest-Ever NHS Strike Kicks Off in UK Over Low Pay

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Nurses-“We strike because it’s our right–and our duty–to stand up for fair pay and for patient safety,” said the head of the Royal College of Nursing union.

In what is expected to be the largest-ever strike by National Health Service employees, tens of thousands of nurses are expected to leave their jobs across the United Kingdom on Thursday. According to the workers, they were forced to strike after the government refused to negotiate over pay amid excruciatingly high inflation.

The walkout is the first nationwide strike by NHS nurses, and it coincides with significant labor strikes by U.K. rail and postal workers in protest of declining real income, limited benefits, and deteriorating working conditions.


Despite regretting the need for a strike, nurses who participated in the walkouts on Thursday in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland — one of two days of action planned this week — claimed they had no other option since low pay and staffing levels put both themselves and patients in danger. Workers in the healthcare industry also cited years of funding reductions imposed by the Tories as a factor affecting nurses and jeopardizing the U.K.’s public healthcare system.

The nurse anesthetist from Northern Ireland, Lyndsay Thompson, said, “Nurses have had enough. We are underpaid and devalued.” “Yes, there is a compensation conflict here, but patient safety is also a major concern. Patient safety is at stake because we are unable to find enough nurses.”

For many of us, this is our first time striking, and our feelings are genuinely mixed, Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the organisation that represents NHS nurses, said in a statement on Thursday.

Cullen stated that the NHS is in crisis, the nursing profession is at capacity, and our loved ones are already in pain. “To ask for more is not unreasonable. This cannot wait; it must be done now.”

The RCN claimed that a strike was unavoidable since British politicians turned down every invitation to begin formal salary negotiations. In an attempt to negotiate pay before beginning the nationwide strike, Cullen visited with Tory Health Secretary Steve Barclay earlier this week, but he resisted.

I requested to talk about salary multiple times, but each time we came back to the same response—that there was no extra cash on the table and that they would not be talking to me about pay—Cullen said. “To convince the nursing staff not to strike this week, I needed to leave this discussion with a serious point. Unfortunately, they won’t receive any further money.”

The RCN added that strike measures had also been planned for Scotland, although these were put on hold after the Scottish government agreed to negotiate.

According to the Health Foundation, an independent U.K. charity, nurses saw a 5% pay cut between 2011 and 2021 when accounting for inflation.

Earlier this year, the U.K. government backed a 4-5% pay raise for most NHS nurses, but the RCN said that’s far from enough given the country’s inflation rate of nearly 11%. RCN is demanding a 5% raise on top of inflation, which U.K. officials have rejected as too high.

As a result of the strike Thursday and the next planned action on December 20, parts of the NHS will be shut down but urgent services will remain fully staffed.

A recent survey found that nearly 60% of Britons support the nurses’ decision to approve a strike.