Supporters say UK nurses’ vote to strike is ‘about saving the NHS’

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LONDON – Lena Mylainen often struggled so much to pay her rent and other bills while working as a nurse in a British hospital that she considered leaving the profession altogether.

Amid a pandemic that left hospitals short-staffed and record inflation that slashed the value of her pay, “I was completely exhausted and just depressed,” she told The Washington Post. “I was never able to make ends meet, even when I worked extra hours,” said the 32-year-old nurse.

That’s why he left Britain’s taxpayer-funded National Health Service – a cherished British institution and one of the world’s biggest employers. Which is why, she says, many nurses across Britain voted this month to strike for the first time in the 106-year history of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the country’s biggest nursing union. The strike is expected before the end of the year.

The pandemic affecting medical services around the world has not spared the NHS either, which has a backlog of millions of patients waiting for treatment for a wide range of ailments. And the unprecedented funding pressure on the NHS following the pandemic has also affected access to health care for some medical worker.

When Mylainen’s partner, an NHS doctor, experienced severe pneumonia and a blood clot, they went from one emergency room to another in search of a hospital bed, she said. “He fell asleep on the floor [of an emergency room] for 12 hours” because of the lack of beds, she remembered.

“The staff shortage due to poor pay and conditions affects all of us,” Myilinen said. “We are sick too.”

Britain is experiencing its highest inflation rate in 41 years, and this is reducing funding for the health care system. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said forecasts of a protracted recession and rising energy prices warned people could see “the biggest drop in household income in generations”.

The nursing union, which has hundreds of thousands of members, says the pay problem has threatened staff shortages and patient safety. According to research by the RCN, an experienced nurse’s earnings have fallen by at least 20 per cent in real terms since 2010 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the nurses’ demand for a pay rise of around 17 per cent – ​​5 per cent more than inflation. , As “unmanageable”, he said talks this week between the health secretary and union leaders would help those involved “see how we can resolve this.” Health officials hope for an agreement to stem a wave of walkouts this winter.

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British government officials say a pay proposal made in July was in line with recommendations from an independent NHS pay review body, with an average 4.75 per cent rise for nurses in England next year.

The plan would increase the average base salary of nurses from about $42,000 to about $44,000 by March 2022, according to the government, which argues that large increases will worsen inflation and expand the country’s debt.

But, as the crisis of survival hits everyone, Paramedics, ambulance workers and cleaners are also voting in favor of joining the nurses’ strike.

Leanne Patrick, a nurse specialist in gender-based violence for the NHS in Scotland, said she voted in favor of the nurses’ strike not for herself but for the challenges facing the majority-female profession. The mother of two said the nurses were not paid fairly for their skills or the level of risk they manage, and said she hoped the walkout would make her voice heard.

Health facilities “bleeding staff” after years of below-inflation pay hikes due to pandemic and cost-of-living crisis and brought “a tipping point of sorts,” Patrick told the Post.

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She said that many nurses supported the strike because “we know it … affects, not only us, but other nurses, and ultimately, patient care.”

When staffing shortages prevent nurses from providing a “safe level of care,” nurses realize “they’re going home at the end of the day worrying about patients.”

And while nurses also feel underappreciated, she said, “isn’t it surprising to think that after all this heartache,” they wonder, “Could I be doing something a lot less stressful for equal pay? “

Since she left the NHS last year, Myllinan, who works in the northern English city of Leeds, has moved into a private sector nursing job at a charity, so she did not take part in the RCN vote. But she said she supports the decision, which she described as a “last option” and hopes it will help solve A problem she says has been building for years.

“This strike is not selfish; This is about saving the NHS,” she said. “…it’s about our own health care in the future.”

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