Broken Britain: Largest nurses strike in HISTORY underway as health services across UK rocked by historic walkout

The biggest nurses strike in NHS history has started as a row over pay continues

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Thousands of nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have begun a 12-hour nationwide strike in a bitter dispute over pay.

It’s the largest strike by nurses in the history of the NHS with around a quarter of hospitals and community teams in England alongside all trusts in Northern Ireland and all but one health board in Wales involved.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said they have been left with ‘no choice’ but to take strike action after ministers rejected pay talks.

Health minister Maria Caulfield said around 70,000 appointments, procedures and surgeries will be cancelled in England with thousands more affected in Northern Ireland and Wales.

The Royal College of Nursing are in dispute with the Government over pay
The Royal College of Nursing are in dispute with the Government over pay

Staff will continue to provide "life-preserving" and some urgent care including chemotherapy, emergency cancer services, dialysis, critical care units, neonatal and paediatric intensive care.

Some areas of mental health and learning disability and autism services are also exempt, while trusts have been told they can request staffing for specific clinical needs.

Nurses will be working on Christmas Day-style rotas to staff A&E and urgent care.

The RCN has been calling for a pay rise at 5% above inflation, though it has indicated it would accept a lower offer. The UK government said the RCN's 19% pay rise demand was unaffordable.

RCN chief executive Pat Cullen has accused Health Secretary Steve Barclay of “belligerence” after he refused to discuss the issue of pay.

She told BBC Breakfast: “This is a tragic day for nurses, a tragic day for patients… and it’s a tragic day for the people of society and for our NHS.

“And it’s tragic that this Government has decided not to speak to us, talk to us, get into a room on the first day of strikes, and that’s why we’re here today.”

On the picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital in Westminster, some nurses were wearing white RCN vests with the slogan “The Voice of Nursing”, while others held placards with messages such as “It’s time to pay nursing staff a fair wage”.

Saffron Cordery, Interim Chief Executive of NHS Providers, told the PA news agency NHS trusts were “pulling out all the stops” to lessen the impact on patients.

She added: “The cold snap has ramped up demand that was already at or close to record levels, but on strike day NHS trusts will do everything they can to ensure that essential services are properly staffed and patient safety, always the number one priority, is safeguarded.”

The nurses strike is the largest in NHS history
The nurses strike is the largest in NHS history

On Wednesday evening, Mr Barclay said nurses were “incredibly dedicated to their job” and “it is deeply regrettable some union members are going ahead with strike action”.

A number of other workers are also going on strike in disputes over pay, jobs and conditions, with an ambulance worker strike scheduled for next week.

Rail services were cancelled on Wednesday due to a walkout by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, with more stoppages planned in the coming weeks.

The Communication Workers Union is also embroiled in a row with Royal Mail which has led to a series of strikes, with more planned over the festive period.

Other planned strikes include Border Force officers and staff in government departments.