Tens of thousands of health workers walked off the job Monday in a pay dispute, adding to the strain on Britain’s state-run National Health Service.
In their largest strike in the National Health Service’s 75-year history, nurses and ambulance service staff are demanding a pay raise that’s on par with Britain’s rate of inflation—the worst in four decades.
The government insists the pay raises are unaffordable and would only add to higher inflation and higher interest rates. The health workers aren’t buying it.
“The government needs to listen and discuss pay rather than just saying the NHS doesn’t have money,” said nurse Ethna Vaughan at a demonstration outside St. Thomas’ Hospital in central London.
Nearly half a million workers have been staging strikes across Britain, pressing Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to resolve disputes and limit service disruptions from railways to schools.
On January 18, thousands of nurses across Britain walked off the job, affecting about one-fourth of the hospitals and clinics in England. That strike came a week after some 25,000 UK ambulance workers had staged their second strike in two months.
Those January strikes came on the heels of a warning by American nurses of more possible walkouts by health workers in this country after thousands New York City nurses at two private hospital systems had staged a three-day walkout.
While the New York nurses did receive a pay raise, their larger complaint had to do with hospital staffing. Nurses in the U.S. have argued that the health care system can no longer function with the widespread staffing shortages that have arisen due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
British nurses are also set to walk out on Tuesday, while ambulance staff plan to stage another one-day strike on Friday.
The Royal College of Nursing trade union wrote to Sunak over the weekend asking him to bring the health workers’ strike “to a swift close” by making “meaningful” pay offers.
A spokesperson for Sunak said on Monday there were no plans for the Prime Minister to get involved in the ongoing talks between the workers and the National Health Service, adding: “We want to keep discussing how we can find a path forward with the unions.”