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NHS strike action: Junior doctors in England begin five-day walkout threatening further patient disruption | UK News

Patients face further major disruption as junior doctors in England begin a five-day strike in their ongoing pay row with the government.

Tens of thousands of hospital appointments are set to be cancelled or postponed as a result of the latest walkout which began at 7am on Saturday and will stretch until 11.59pm on Wednesday.

It is the 10th stoppage by junior doctors since last March and follows the longest strike in NHS history in January, which lasted six full days.

“The government could have stopped these strikes by simply making a credible pay offer for junior doctors in England to begin reversing the pay cuts they have inflicted upon us for more than a decade,” Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee, said.

“The same government could have even accepted our offer to delay this round of strike action to give more space for talks – all we asked for in return was a short extension of our mandate to strike.

“The fact that ministers have chosen strike action over what could have been the end of this year’s pay dispute is disappointing to say the least.”

The BMA also expects its strike mandate to be renewed raising the prospect of further industrial action.

What should I do if I’m ill during the strikes?

If your condition is not “serious or life-threatening”, the NHS is asking people to use pharmacists, GPs, or the NHS 111 service in the first instance.

NHS bosses have repeatedly stressed that you should still call 999 in life-threatening situations.

Non-striking medical staff will continue to provide urgent, emergency, and maternity care to people who need it, with those “with the most pressing health needs” prioritised.

People who attend A&E with less urgent needs “may experience longer waiting times than normal”.

Planned appointments and surgeries may have been cancelled, but if you have not been contacted about a rearrangement you should attend as normal, the NHS says.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “I want to see doctors treating patients, not standing on picket lines.

“In negotiations with the BMA junior doctors committee, we made it clear we were prepared to go further than the pay increase of up to 10.3% that they have already received. They refused to put our offer to their members.

“More than 1.3 million appointments and operations have already been cancelled or rescheduled since industrial action began – five days of further action will compound this.

“The NHS has robust contingency plans in place, and it is vital that people continue to come forward for treatment. But no one should underestimate the impact these strikes have on our NHS.

“So again, I urge the BMA junior doctors committee to call off their strikes and show they are prepared to be reasonable, so that we can come back to the negotiating table to find a fair way forward.”

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Junior doctors have received a pay rise averaging nearly 9% this financial year.

The BMA has been seeking a 35% “pay restoration” as its starting position, but has said it is willing to negotiate.

Junior doctors make up around half of all doctors in the NHS and have anywhere up to eight years’ experience working as a hospital doctor, depending on their specialty, or up to three years in general practice.

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Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, described the latest round of strikes as having “a devastating impact on patients” but said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was refusing to negotiate.

NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said it is “extremely concerning” that strike action and disruption “are becoming a new normal”.

“For the equivalent of more than one in every 10 days last year, the NHS has had to effectively stop carrying out most routine appointments to prioritise emergency care,” he added.

Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said: “We can’t go on like this. Wave after wave of strikes saps the morale of staff and impacts patients.

“Trust leaders want to get on with the job of giving patients first-class care instead of having to spend too much time and energy planning for and coping with weeks of disruptive strikes.”

Train strikes: Commuters warned to expect disruption as 20,000 rail workers stage walkout in ongoing pay row | UK News

More than 20,000 rail workers will strike on Thursday in a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions – with passengers warned they may experience severe disruption to services.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) will walk out on 20, 22 and 29 July while drivers in Aslef are banned from working overtime this week.

RMT members involved in the strikes include station workers, train managers and catering staff with 14 train companies affected.

Read more: A full list of July dates and services affected by industrial action

The industrial action will see variations in services across the country with trains due to start later and finish much earlier than usual.

Around half of train services will run in some areas, while others will have no services at all.

Services the evening before and morning after strike days may also be affected.

Passengers have been advised to check their journeys in advance.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the strikes would show the country “just how important railway staff are to the running of the rail industry”.

“My team of negotiators and I are available 24/7 for talks with the train operating companies and Government,” he said.

Mr Lynch said neither party had “made any attempt whatsoever to arrange any meetings or put forward a decent offer that can help us reach a negotiated solution”.

“The Government continues to shackle the companies and will not allow them to put forward a package that can settle this dispute,” he added.

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Starmer: Strikes ‘are government’s mess’

Meanwhile, Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said the union wants to resolve the dispute.

“Train drivers don’t want to be inconveniencing the public,” he said.

“We have given the Government and rail operators plenty of opportunities to come to the table but it remains clear that they do not want a resolution.

“Our members, the drivers who keep the railway running day in, day out, will not accept the Government’s attempts to force our industry into decline.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, joins union members on the picket line outside Newcastle station. Rail passengers will suffer fresh travel disruption in the next few days because of more strikes in long-running disputes over pay, jobs and conditions. Picture date: Wednesday May 31, 2023.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, joins union members on the picket line outside Newcastle station in May

A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson said: “The upcoming rail strikes called by the RMT union and the overtime ban by Aslef will undoubtedly cause some disruption, affecting not only the daily commute of our passengers but also disrupting the plans of families during the summer holidays.

Members of the drivers' union Aslef on the picket line at Euston station, London, during their long-running dispute over pay. Picture date: Friday May 12, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story INDUSTRY Strikes. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Members of the drivers’ union Aslef on the picket line at Euston station, London in May

“This will lead to disappointment, frustration, and financial strain for tens of thousands of people. We apologise for the inconvenience caused and understand the impact on individuals and businesses.

“While we are doing all we can to keep trains running, unfortunately there will be reduced services between 17 July and 29 July so our advice is to check before you travel.

“Passengers with advance tickets can be refunded fee-free if the train that the ticket is booked for is cancelled, delayed or rescheduled.”

Read more:
Train strikes – Full list of July dates, Tube and rail services affected by industrial action
Nearly every railway ticket office in England could close under plans due to be unveiled
RMT’s Mick Lynch insists rail strikes ‘have been a success’

London Underground passengers were also warned to expect disruption next week because of industrial action by the RMT and Aslef in a separate dispute.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The Government has met the rail unions, listened to them and facilitated improved offers on pay and reform. The union leaders should put these fair and reasonable offers to their members so this dispute can be resolved.”

Nurses’ strike: Critical care exemptions in place for 28-hour walkout, RCN chief insists, ahead of industrial action | Politics News

National exemptions are in place to provide critical care during strike action by nurses, a union leader has insisted, telling Sky News staff would never leave patients unsafe or create more risk.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen was speaking to Sophy Ridge On Sunday ahead of a 28-hour walkout by members over pay.

The government has warned strike action without mitigations “clearly does put patients at risk”.

The industrial action will run from 8pm on Sunday until 11.59pm on Monday night after voting to reject the latest government offer.

Politics latest: Union leader says nurses are pushed to the brink

The union initially said it would not agree to derogations – broad areas of care where staffing is guaranteed despite industrial action – fuelling concerns about patients being put at risk.

It led Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) among other organisations to declare a “business continuity incident” until it was confident it could staff its services over the strike.

The RCN subsequently offered assurances after the hospital raised “serious concerns”.

But Ms Cullen told Ridge wider, national exemptions were in place.

According to the RCN website, limited safety critical mitigations would include allowing some staff “to preserve life-and-limb” care in emergency departments and intensive care units.

Ms Cullen said: “Our nurses, as I’ve said time and time again, will never leave their patients unsafe or create more risk that’s already in the system at this point in time.”

Read more:
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GMB votes to accept NHS pay offer after Unite rejection

Ms Cullen added: “There are national exemptions in place for a range of services, for emergency departments, for intensive care units, for neonatal units, paediatric intensive care units, those really acute services.

“In fact, it was the Royal College of Nursing contacted NHS England to ask for a process to be put in place so that we could make sure that the strike was safe for our patients.”

‘Lives are being put at risk every single day’

Defending the latest walkout she added: “They’re going on strike because patients’ lives are being put at risk every single day, and why? Because we have tens of thousands of vacant nursing posts.”

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NHS executive: ‘Strikes are disruptive’

Health workers across the NHS have gone on strike several times in past months in disputes over pay and conditions.

Unions including Unison and the GMB have voted in favour of a government pay offer to end the strikes, while Unite and the RCN have voted against.

Nurses make up a quarter of NHS staff and are the biggest proportion of the health service workforce.

NHS England warned staffing levels for some areas of the country will be “exceptionally low, lower than on previous strike days”.

Pay offer ‘fair and reasonable’

Warning of the danger of strike action without exemptions for emergency care, cabinet minister Mark Harper told Ridge: “It clearly does put patients at risk, which is why we urge the unions not to go ahead and do the strike.”

Appealing to the RCN, the transport secretary added: “I would urge them to think again and to do what the other trade unions in the health service have done, which is to accept what I think is fair and reasonable pay offer, reflecting the value that we do place on hardworking NHS staff.”

‘I don’t want to see strikes go ahead’

Speaking on the same programme, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer refused to say whether he supported nurses going on strike without exemptions.

He said: “I don’t want to see strikes go ahead.

“The way to avoid strikes is to get in the room with the nurses and resolve these issues.”

A High Court judge ruled on Thursday it would be unlawful for the RCN strike to continue into Tuesday as originally planned, meaning it will now end just before midnight on Monday.

Hospitals brace for large-scale disruption as nurses prepare to start 28-hour walkout | UK News

NHS services across England are bracing for more disruption, as nurses get ready to stage a 28-hour walkout over pay.

Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will begin their latest strike action at 8pm today, and will end it at 11.59pm on Monday evening, after voting to reject the government’s latest pay offer.

The union had earlier refused to agree to derogations (a level of essential care during industrial action), but later said it would grant some exemptions.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has called the latest walkout “disappointing” and accused the RCN of risking patient safety.

He said: “It is hugely disappointing some unions are escalating strike action this week – including the RCN, despite only a third of its members rejecting the government’s fair and reasonable offer on pay, which other unions accepted.

“The RCN’s decision not to provide any national exemptions from strike action including for emergency and cancer care, also risks patient safety, though I welcome the fact a number of local mitigations have been agreed for critical services.

“These strikes will put more pressure on the NHS and will be incredibly disruptive for patients.

“People should attend appointments unless told otherwise by the NHS, continue to call 999 in a life-threatening emergency and use NHS 111 online services for non-urgent health needs.”

General secretary of the RCN Pat Cullen said: “After a three-month pause, strike action by nursing staff regrettably recommences tonight.

“The government wants to bring NHS strike action to a close this coming week, but with several big unions – and nursing as the largest part of the NHS workforce – still in dispute, it has to do better.

“Only negotiations can resolve this, and I urge ministers to reopen formal discussions with the college over pay specifically. Nursing staff are looking for a fair settlement that shows the government values and understands their profession.

“We appear a long way from that currently, but I remind ministers it is entirely in their gift.”

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Exceptionally low staff numbers

Read more:
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GMB votes to accept NHS pay offer after Unite rejection
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Original strike plan deemed unlawful

Nurses are set to strike this weekend after a High Court judge ruled on Thursday it would be unlawful for the industrial action to continue into Tuesday as originally planned.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay secured the court’s interim declaration after bringing legal action against part of the trade union’s proposed walkout.

It was deemed unlawful due to the initial mandate to strike, which lasts six months, expiring, meaning any action after 2 May could not go ahead.

NHS England warned that staffing levels for some areas of the country will be “exceptionally low, lower than on previous strike days”.

It is urging the public to use the health service wisely as hospitals prepare to cope with the bank holiday weekend, and said emergency and urgent care would remain the priority.

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NHS executive: ‘Strikes are disruptive’

Unions encouraged to accept pay offer

The latest action comes as health unions are split over whether to accept a 5% pay offer from the government.

The NHS Staff Council – made up of health unions, employers and government representatives – is meeting on Tuesday to discuss the offer.

However, the offer from the government has been described as “final”.

Unison and the GMB have both accepted pay offers from the government, with the RCN and Unite having refused.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen will be on Sophy Ridge On Sunday from 8.30am.

Thousands of ambulance workers go on strike today – as junior doctors announce when they will stage walkout | UK News

Thousands of ambulance workers are going on strike today in their ongoing dispute over pay and staffing.

The strike will involve more than 11,000 members of the GMB union in England and Wales, along with some members of the Unite union.

It comes as the number of health workers taking industrial action continues to grow, with junior doctors set to go on strike next month.

Speaking on behalf of ambulance workers, GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison said they will walk out “because this government is tin-eared”.

“It has been over a month since the government engaged in any meaningful dialogue,” she said.

“They are missing in action and refuse to talk pay.”

She added: “Solving the issue of pay is vital if we’re going to stem the tide of dedicated healthcare workers leaving the profession.”

GMB members

Junior doctors in the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) have said they will strike in England on Wednesday 15 March.

Some 97.48% of members voted in favour of what will be the first strike in the union’s history.

HCSA president Dr Naru Narayanan said: “Junior doctors have held together patient care amid a spiralling staffing crisis.

“In return for this huge emotional, mental and physical toll they’ve been subjected to a decade of real-terms pay cuts totalling over 26%. Enough is enough.”

Read more:
Who is taking industrial action in 2023 and when?
Rising public support for unions, poll suggests

Around 45,000 junior doctors who are members of the British Medical Association (BMA) have also been balloted on strike action – with the result due at the end of February.

The BMA has warned it will stage a three-day strike if there is a “yes” vote.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “As part of a multi-year deal we agreed with the BMA, junior doctors’ pay has increased by a cumulative 8.2% since 2019/20.

“We also introduced a higher pay band for the most experienced staff and increased rates for night shifts.”

Steve Barclay  leaves after attending a cabinet meeting in Downing Street
Steve Barclay said ‘it is time unions engaged constructively’. Pic: AP

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Strikes are in nobody’s best interests and only cause further disruption for patients, despite contingency measures in place.

“It is time unions engaged constructively with the pay review body process for 2023/24 and cancelled strikes so we can move forward and continue tackling the COVID-19 backlog.

“I’ve been clear throughout that I remain keen to keep talking to unions about what is fair and affordable for the coming financial year, as well as wider concerns around conditions and workload so we can make the NHS a better place to work.”

Nurses will continue their action with a 48-hour strike starting on 1 March, with the Royal College of Nursing saying it has received £250,000 in public donations since starting its campaign in December.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “There isn’t a person in this country whose life hasn’t been impacted by a nurse and that’s why the public are with us every step of the way.”

Simpsons episode where Homer goes on strike shown by Channel 4 on ‘Walkout Wednesday’ | UK News

Channel 4 has said its showing of a Simpsons episode centred on workers’ rights on the biggest day of strike action in a decade was a coincidence. 

The broadcaster received praise online for showing the episode, which sees Homer Simpson challenge Mr Burns over the employees’ dental plan, which culminates in a strike at the power plant.

The season four episode called Last Exit To Springfield is widely regarded as one of the show’s best.

Its showing at 6pm on Wednesday came after about half a million workers went on strike in increasingly bitter disputes over pay, jobs and conditions.

“Walkout Wednesday” saw thousands of schools closed due to action by the National Education Union and picket lines mounted outside railway stations, schools, government departments and universities across the country.

On Twitter, viewers commended Channel 4 for the inadvertent support for the strikes.

“The Simpsons. Channel 4. Very apt episode considering the amount of strikes taking place,” tweeted Alex Ramsden.

“Channel 4 playing the strike ep of the Simpsons. Solidarity,” wrote Twitter user Hannah Fretwell.

“Well done Channel 4 for putting on The Simpsons episode where all the power plant workers go on strike!” added a Twitter user called Jim.

NHS leaders making contingency plans as biggest walkout in its history looms | UK News

NHS leaders are making contingency plans as the biggest walkout in the health service’s history looms.

Ambulance staff and nurses are both set to go on strike on 6 February – taking industrial action on the same day for the first time ever.

Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, has said the proposed walkouts are a “huge concern”.

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‘What do we want? Fair pay!’

She said: “Trusts have been warning for months that coordinated strikes were a possibility if the government and unions failed to reach an early agreement on this year’s pay award.”

Ms Cordery urged ministers to “get round the table with the unions urgently to deal with the key issue of pay for this financial year, otherwise there is no light at the end of the tunnel”.

The Royal College of Nursing has confirmed that further strikes will take place on 6 and 7 February in a long-running dispute over pay.

But yesterday, the GMB union also announced that more than 10,000 ambulance workers – including paramedics and call handlers – are also staging a walkout on 6 February.

“It could be the biggest day of industrial action the NHS has ever seen,” Ms Cordery warned.

Read more:
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‘The PM has to listen’: Hundreds of striking nurses descend on Downing Street
Paramedics warn patients are waiting up to 26 hours to get into hospital

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‘I work 30 hours overtime to top up pay’

‘A significant challenge’

Today, thousands of nurses are on strike at more than 55 NHS trusts in England in their second and final day of industrial action this week.

But Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, says February’s dual walkouts will have a far bigger impact.

He added: “This escalation takes us deeper into the situation NHS leaders have been warning against – a war of attrition between the government and unions spanning several months at a time when NHS services are seeing unprecedented pressures.

“Health leaders will now be intensifying plans and preparations for the combined strike of nurses and ambulance workers next month, which will pose a more significant challenge than the industrial action we have seen to date.”

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10% pay rise for nurses ‘not affordable’

Rishi Sunak has said his government is “very keen to have a constructive dialogue” with unions across the public sector – and stressed talks are ongoing to find a way of bringing strikes to an end.

The prime minister added: “But we do also need to make sure that those conversations are based on what’s reasonable, what’s responsible for the country as we tackle inflation, which is good for everybody if we can get that down as quickly as possible.”

Also yesterday, Health Secretary Steve Barclay ruled out a 10% pay rise for nurses – insisting it was “not affordable”.

He warned this would amount to an additional £3.6bn a year that would take money away from patient services.

Protesters outside Downing Street, London, during the nurses strike, against the Bill on minimum service levels during strikes. Picture date: Wednesday January 18, 2023.

‘Totally heartbroken’

The Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive and general secretary, Pat Cullen, says nurses feel “totally heartbroken” at going on strike, but have no choice.

She said: “No nurse should be ashamed to say that, actually, they’re really struggling to live on the meagre salaries that this government’s paying them. It’s their right to be paid a decent wage.”

In a statement, Ms Cullen said patients had also joined picket lines on Wednesday – indicating “this is a battle for the soul of the NHS as much as it’s about pay rises”.

If you are an NHS worker and would like to share your experiences with us anonymously, please email

Thousands of nurses beginning two-day strike – and walkout will be much bigger than last month | UK News

Thousands of nurses will go on strike today as a bitter pay dispute with the government continues.

Nursing staff from more than 55 NHS trusts will take part in industrial action on Wednesday and Thursday following two days of action in December.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has announced that two further, bigger strikes will be held next month, while the GMB union is expected to announce further ambulance worker strike dates this afternoon. Junior doctors are also preparing to walk out.

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‘I work 30 hours overtime to top up pay’

Thousands of operations and appointments are expected to be cancelled during the two consecutive days of strike action. Almost 30,000 needed to be rescheduled following December’s nurse strikes.

Patients have been told to attend all their usual appointments unless they have been contacted.

NHS England said patients should use services “wisely” by going to NHS 111 online but continuing to call 999 in a life-threatening emergency.

The RCN has agreed to staff 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 from the strike, while trusts will be told they can request staffing for specific clinical needs.

When it comes to adult A&E and urgent care, nurses will work Christmas Day-style rotas.

RCN chief executive Pat Cullen said: “Today’s strike action by nursing staff is a modest escalation before a sharp increase in under three weeks from now… People aren’t dying because nurses are striking. Nurses are striking because people are dying.”

The RCN has been calling for a pay rise at 5% above inflation, though it has said it will accept a lower offer.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said while he recognises the cost of living pressures on NHS staff, “unaffordable pay rises” will stoke inflation.

Writing in The Independent, he said: “If we provide unaffordable pay rises to NHS staff, we will take billions of pounds away from where we need it most. Unaffordable pay hikes will mean cutting patient care and stoking the inflation that would make us all poorer.”

Separately, Mr Barclay has signalled that pay negotiations will look ahead to next year rather than reflecting on the 2022/23 pay award, which unions have said must be reviewed.

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What does the anti-strike bill propose?

NHS trying to break ‘vicious cycle’

The strike action comes as Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, urged ministers to renew pay talks with unions in a bid to halt further industrial action.

He suggested waiting lists are likely to remain stubbornly high unless the government gives the “NHS a fighting chance”.

Mr Taylor also said continued strike action and winter pressures are jeopardising the ability of the NHS to break out of a “vicious cycle”.

He added: “We’ve been saying for weeks that the strike action couldn’t have come at a more difficult time for the NHS, but we hoped a compromise would be reached by now to bring an end to the impasse.

“All the while this continues, the NHS won’t be able to break out of the vicious cycle it’s in.”

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Have previous strikes been successful?

Majority of public think government is more to blame in pay row

Meanwhile, nearly three in five Britons think the government is more to blame for the ongoing pay row with nurses lasting so long, according to a new poll.

Some 57% of people said the government is more at fault for the length of the industrial dispute with nurses, compared with just 9% who said nurses are more at fault.

The Ipsos poll of 1,080 British adults, carried out earlier this month, also found that a quarter of people felt both sides are at fault.

Matt Tacey has said nurses want to be providing care
Matt Tacey has said nurses want to be providing care

Nurse says ‘we want to provide care’

Matt Tacey, a 32-year-old nurse who lives in the East Midlands, has said he doesn’t want to go strike today – but he, as well as fellow colleagues, have been “forced” into the position because “the government just won’t enter any meaningful negotiations with us as a union”.

“You won’t find one single nurse that wants to be outside hospitals or places of work,” he added.

“We are disappointed to be striking because it goes against the fundamental aspect of being a nurse – providing care – and we want to be able to provide care, we want to improve lives.

“To stand outside hospitals and not provide care goes against every grain in our DNA and it’s going to be around three to four degrees tomorrow, so the government has literally left us out in the cold.”

Mr Tacey said patient safety needs to improved, and warned: “The NHS isn’t at breaking point, the NHS is broken.”

He went on to warn that some of his colleagues now need to pick up extra shifts “just to get by”, adding: “My wife and I often have to borrow money from parents just to see us through to the end of the month because current salaries are not covering the basic bills.

“We live in one of the richest countries in the world and yet people can’t afford heating, they can’t afford to put food on the table … it’s a national disgrace.”

Sewage plant attendants and Thames Barrier staff to strike

Meanwhile, thousands of Environment Agency staff across England will walk out today as they strike over pay for the first time.

Members of Unison including river inspectors, flood forecasting officers, coastal risk management officers, sewage plant attendants and staff at the Thames Barrier are among those escalating their industrial action after refusing to do voluntary overtime in the run up to and during the festive period.

Unison says there are severe staffing shortages across the whole of the Environment Agency, fuelled by pay issues.

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‘I’m disappointed’ in striking union

‘Schools may have to close’

It comes as Downing Street has warned that widespread strikes planned by teachers, train drivers and civil servants on 1 February could likely cause “significant disruption” to the public.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), has said school leaders may have “no choice” but to close their doors to pupils during strikes.

The National Education Union (NEU) announced plans to hold seven days of walkouts in February and March in a dispute over pay.

Nine out of 10 teacher members of the NEU who voted in the ballot backed strike action, and the union passed the 50% ballot turnout required by law.

Union leaders are due to meet the education secretary for talks later today.

Tens of thousands of nurses to strike today in first mass walkout in a century | UK News

Tens of thousands of nurses are going on strike today for their first mass walkout in a century across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The action, a bid to secure above-inflation pay rises, is going ahead after talks to avert it ended in a deadlock.

Picket lines are being set up at dozens of hospitals and thousands of NHS appointments and operations have been cancelled, with the health service running a bank holiday-style service in many areas.

Share your NHS experience – how are the strikes affecting you?

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said it will still staff 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 from the strike, while trusts have been told they can request staffing for specific clinical needs.

When it comes to adult A&E and urgent care, nurses will work Christmas Day-style rotas.

Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said agency NHS trusts were “pulling out all the stops” to lessen the impact on patients.

She said: “But it’s inevitable that some operations or appointments will have to be rescheduled, and trusts are pulling out all the stops to minimise disruption.

“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.”

Read More:
How strike will impact A&E and other NHS services – and which hospitals are affected

RCN chief executive Pat Cullen has accused Health Secretary Steve Barclay of “belligerence” after he refused to discuss the issue of pay – because the government has already accepted recommendations made by the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) to give below inflation pay rises of around 4%.

This would have seen them get a pay rise of around £1,400.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay in Westminster, London, ahead of his meeting with Pat Cullen, the head of the Royal College of Nurses (RCN), as he tries to avert strike action. Nurses have voted to strike in the majority of NHS employers in a row over pay, the first UK-wide strike action in its 106-year history. Picture date: Thursday November 10, 2022.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay has been criticised by the head of the Royal College of Nursing

The RCN has been calling for a pay rise at 5% above inflation, though it has indicated it would accept a lower offer.

When it submitted the 5% figure to the independent pay review body in March, inflation was running at 7.5%.

But inflation has since soared, with RPI standing at 14.2% in September.

‘A tragic first’

Meanwhile, in Scotland, RCN members are being consulted on a revised pay offer from the Scottish government.

Ms Cullen said: “Nurses are not relishing this, we are acting with a very heavy heart.

“It has been a difficult decision taken by hundreds of thousands who begin to remove their labour in a bid to be heard, recognised and valued.

“It is a tragic first for nursing, the RCN and the NHS.

“Nursing staff on picket lines is a sign of failure on the part of governments.

“My plea to patients is to know that this strike is for you too – it’s about waiting lists, treatments that are cancelled year round and the very future of the NHS.”

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Royal College of Nursing leader Pat Cullen says the government’s ‘turned its back’ on nurses

The RCN has also raised the issue of huge staff vacancies in the NHS, with 47,000 nurse roles empty in England alone. And it has warned strike action may need to continue into January if the government does not re-negotiate on pay.

The health secretary said nurses were “incredibly dedicated to their job” and that it was “deeply regrettable some union members are going ahead with strike action”.

Mr Barclay added: “My number one priority is to keep patients safe – I’ve been working across government and with medics outside the public sector to ensure safe staffing levels – but I do remain concerned about the risk that strikes pose to patients.

“Nevertheless, the NHS is open and patients should continue to seek urgent medical care – and attend appointments – unless they’ve been contacted by the NHS.”

He said paying nurses more “would mean taking money away from frontline services at a time when we are tackling record waiting lists as a result of the pandemic.”

Read more:
Who is striking this winter and why?

But pressure is mounting on the government to find a compromise on pay, with former Conservative Party chairman Sir Jake Berry saying it “is going to have to improve its offer”.

“We need to find a way as a government, and the union does too, to get to that centre point, that point of agreement straight away,” he told Talk TV.

During the strike, nurses will man picket lines at major NHS hospitals, including Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust in London, Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

Several trusts have already given details of cancelled outpatient appointments and planned treatments.

The Western Trust in Northern Ireland said it had “regrettably taken the decision to cancel some non-emergency services”, with 587 outpatient appointments postponed across Altnagelvin Hospital, Omagh Primary Care and Treatment Centre and South West Acute Hospital.

The trust said there would also be reduced staffing in community nursing services including rapid response nursing, district nursing, community respiratory nursing and continence services.

A view of signs from the Royal College of Nursing during a protest outside the Conservative Party conference at the ICC in Birmingham, England, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Pic: AP

In Wales, the Welsh government said non-urgent or routine appointments are likely to be postponed.

On Wednesday, the head of NHS Employers said “real concerns” remain about the level of cover nurses will provide for cancer patients during the strike.

In a letter to NHS leaders, Danny Mortimer said some aspects of talks with the RCN had been disappointing and warned that “unless the government indicates a willingness to negotiate on pay-related matters, further strike dates will be announced by the RCN for January 2023 and beyond”.

A second RCN nurse strike is set for 20 December, while thousands of ambulance workers will go on strike on 21 December.

The RCN has urged agency workers not to cover for striking staff.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) began the first of two 48-hour strikes at Network Rail – and 14 train companies – on Tuesday, which will last until Friday.

There is also industrial action planned in a whole number of UK spheres, including paramedics, postal workers, Border Force agents, firefighters, driving instructors, bus operators, airport baggage handlers and even coffin makers.