Nurses across the UK will strike this winter for the first time in the history of their 106-year-old trade union.
As the Royal College of Nursing revealed on Wednesday, members at the majority of National Health Service employers have supported the industrial action “in their fight for fair pay and safe staffing.”
“Industrial action is expected to begin before the end of this year, with more detailed plans and timelines announced shortly,” the trade union said.
The walkout will not affect emergency services or intensive care units but is expected to impact routine medical appointments.
The nurses are campaigning for a pay rise of 5% above retail inflation, which exceeds 12% amid a cost-of-living and energy crisis that has been exacerbated by sanctions on Russia and the decrease in Russian energy supplies to Europe.
According to an estimate by The Guardian, the average annual salary for nurses of £35,680 ($40,600) in real terms is £3,000 ($3,400) less than a decade ago, due to inflation.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay expressed his disappointment over the planned strike. He took to Twitter to offer a reminder that the government has given “over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 ($1,600) this year on top of a 3% rise last year.”
“But union demands for a 17.6% pay settlement are around three times what millions of people outside the public sector will typically receive and simply aren’t reasonable or affordable,” Barclay emphasized.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, who was criticized earlier this year for sporting a £10,000 ($11,400) Rolex watch, added fuel to the bitter dispute.
Commenting on reports that some nurses are being forced to use food banks, Keegan told Sky News that such a thing normally happens when something breaks down, “either a relationship or boiler or anything.” She added that she doesn’t see “any point” in a strike by nurses.
Unions responded furiously to these remarks.
“Does Ms Keegan think we have 135,000 vacancies in the NHS because of break ups? Or is it the systematic underpayment of health professionals?” Rachel Harrison, the national secretary of the trade union GMB, said.
Meanwhile, teachers in Scotland, England, and Wales are also considering striking over cost-of-living pressures.
The Bank of England in its November report described the outlook for the UK economy as “very challenging” and predicted a prolonged recession.