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U.K. nurses strike over pay, testing a health care system in crisis



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LONDON – British newspapers are calling it a “winter of discontent”.

Massive strikes are creating chaos in hospitals and deadlocks at transit centres, as firefighters, baggage handlers, paramedics, driver inspectors, staff immigrants, bus drivers, construction workers, mail carriers, and railroad operators increased. The public has been warned to avoid taking the train on Christmas Eve.

The most worrying thing for the government — and the public — is that nurses have just gone on strike. The teacher threatened to stop working at the beginning of the new year.

Workers in many public sectors are openly revolting against 12 years of Conservative “budget austerity” and soaring costs of living by 2022. Energy prices here are so high that the government had to intervene to limit and subsidize household heating bills so people wouldn’t freeze in their flats.

This followed the collapse of the previous Tory government, of Liz Truss, the shortest serving prime minister in modern British history. She called for tax cuts but offered no way to pay for them, sending the market crashing and Truss into early retirement.

The British government is currently preparing to mobilize 1,200 soldiers to drive ambulances during the holidays. Officials from other agencies will be brought in to check passports at border crossings, if necessary.

During the worst years of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of ordinary Britons, along with Prime Minister Boris Johnson (who is also gone), stood at their doorsteps during the harsh lockdown to smash pots and pans. clapping in support of National Health Service workers, hailing them as leaders. -line hero.

Now nurses are saying they need more than applause. They say they are exhausted, overworked and underpaid, and want a real pay rise to keep up with inflation that has hit 10%.

Rachel Ambrose, 40, a mental health nurse working with children and young people in Oxford, said: “They are taking advantage of us. “We are not looking for a lavish lifestyle. We are nurses. We just want to pay our bills. We want heat.”

Ambrose said that the nurses are “angry, we’re angry, we’re determined,” and that these strikes “will continue because they ignore us.”

She points to staffing shortages at the NHS undermining patient care and having nurses at the breaking point. The number of sick days has increased since the pandemic – and so have nurses leaving the profession or moving abroad.

Britain’s public health system is short of 50,000 nurses Half of all new staff today come from abroad because the UK can’t train enough at home or pay too little to attract new workers. Brexit has also prevented the “free movement” of nurses from Eastern Europe to the UK.

The government says the average nurse’s salary is currently £35,600 ($43,300). New nurses are paid less; Experienced nurses with specialized skills are paid more; Overtime also increases wages.

Nurses earn higher salaries in the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Germany and Spain. However, British nurses are paid more than their counterparts in France and Italy.

After one of the worst weeks of strikes in recent British history, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s new government still refuses to come to the negotiating table with unions, calling the pay hike “unacceptable”. ” and warned that the government must keep wages unchanged to keep inflation under control.

The government supports a modest increase in wages for ambulance crews and nurses — as recommended by independent pay review agencies — by 4.75 percent. The Nurses Association is asking for a 19 percent increase.

A Sunak spokesman on Monday told reporters that “it would be irresponsible to promote double-digit bonuses.”

But Sunak and ministers in his government are learning that it’s one thing to go against the railway workers and their “union bosses,” as the government calls them, and it’s one thing to go against the nurses. is another matter. The rail strikes generate frustrating growls for city commuters and holiday tourists – which have been highlighted by anti-union tabloids. On the other hand, nurses are revered. A YouGov poll this month found 64% of Britons support the nurses’ strike.

On Monday, Sunak convened an emergency cabinet meeting to shape a plan to keep the country’s vital national services running, with the military on standby.

About 10,000 ambulance workers in England and Wales will go on strike on Wednesday. Members of the Royal College of Nurses association left on Thursday and headed for the fences again on Tuesday.

Nurses working in emergency rooms are continuing to work, but hospitals are struggling to maintain basic care staff. Many routine procedures, examinations, non-emergency surgeries, and other treatments have been delayed.

Some victims of a heart attack or stroke are waiting for an ambulance for an average of nearly an hour – compared to the 18-minute target.

At neighboring doctors’ offices, where most patients see GPs and nurses, staff members describe a system in crisis due to lack of funding and labor.

Anthony Johnson, 29, a cardiac nurse in Leeds, is among those who support the Royal College of Nurses’ decision for the first time in the school’s 106-year history.

“We haven’t had the pay hikes to meet inflation yet. That’s why you see nurses going to food banks and the number of vacancies has increased dramatically,” he said. “We have a terrible nurse-to-patient ratio. Our clinical guidelines are one nurse for eight patients, but we often never meet that. The reality is, it’s one nurse for 13 patients, so it’s constantly unsafe and puts patients at risk.”

He enjoys working in the UK and will stay. But many are searching abroad, he warned.

“We are training nurses for export, usually to Canada, Australia and New Zealand… where nurses can earn an extra £10,000. [$12,200]’ said Johnson. “Instead of investing in our staff, the UK government is stealing nurses from other parts of the world. They are cutting wages and letting that happen.”

Julia Patterson, founder of Every Doctor, a campaign group representing 1,200 UK doctors, said her doctors are “really supportive and will come together to keep patients safe in the absence of nurses”. . They will have to work extremely hard, but they support their colleagues in doing this.”

She noted that doctors are also being voted on to see if they can strike in the new year.

“People are dying from public health failures,” says Patterson.

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