U.K. nurses’ vote to strike is ‘about saving the NHS,’ supporters say

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LONDON — Leena Myllynen was struggling to pay her rent and other bills while working as a nurse in a British hospital that she considered quitting the profession altogether.

Between an epidemic that left hospitals understaffed and record inflation devaluing his salary, “I was completely exhausted and depressed,” he told The Washington Post. “Even when I was working overtime, I never, ever made it to payday,” the 32-year-old nurse said.

That’s why it left the UK’s taxpayer-funded National Health Service – a beloved British institution and one of the world’s largest employers. She also says that’s why so many nurses in England went on strike this month for the first time in the 106-year history of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the country’s largest nursing association. The strike is expected before the end of the year.

The epidemic that has overwhelmed medical services worldwide has not spared the NHS, which has millions of patients awaiting treatment for a wide variety of diseases. Unprecedented pressures for funding in the NHS after the pandemic have even affected access to healthcare for some. health workers

When Myllynen’s partner, an NHS doctor, suffered from severe pneumonia and a blood clot, they went from one emergency room to another to look for a hospital bed, he said. “Finally he lay on the ground [of an emergency room] 12 hours due to the lack of beds,” he recalled.

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“Lack of staff caused by poor pay and conditions affects us all,” Myllynen added. “We are sick too”

The UK is experiencing the highest inflation rate in 41 years and is tightening funds for its healthcare system. Projections of a prolonged recession and rising energy prices have prompted warnings that people may see “the largest decline in household incomes in generations,” said Paul Johnson, director of the Financial Studies Institute.

The nurses’ union, which has hundreds of thousands of members, says the wage problem increases staff shortages and jeopardizes patient safety. According to research commissioned by RCN, an experienced nurse’s earnings have fallen by at least 20 percent in real terms since 2010 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced a demand for nurses’ pay rises of around 17 percent – 5 percent above inflation. He said talks this week between the health minister and union leaders will help those involved “see how we can solve this”. Health officials are hoping a deal can be struck to prevent a wave of job cuts this winter.

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British government officials say a July payment proposal for nurses in England next year, with an average increase of 4.75 percent, is in line with the recommendations of an independent NHS wage review body.

The plan, according to the government, will raise the average basic wage for nurses from about $42,000 by March 2022 to about $44,000, arguing that larger increases will worsen inflation and increase the nation’s debt.

However, as a cost of living crisis hit everyone, paramedics, ambulance workers and cleaners are also voting for nurses to join the strike.

Leanne Patrick, nurse expert on gender-based violence for the NHS in Scotland, said she voted in favor of the nurses’ strike not for herself but because of the difficulties she saw in the predominantly female profession. The mother of two said the nurses were not being paid fairly for their skills or the level of risk they were managing and that she hoped the strike would make their voices heard.

The pandemic and cost-of-living crisis has led to “staff bleeding” of healthcare facilities after years of sub-inflationary wage increases. Patrick brought “a kind of tipping point” to The Post.

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

Patrick said that when staff shortages prevented nurses from providing “safe levels of care,” they found that nurses “go home at the end of the day worrying about patients.”

And when nurses feel unappreciated, they may ask, “After all this heartache, can I do something much less stressful for a similar pay?” It’s not surprising that they think so, he added.

Working in Leeds, in the north of England, since leaving the NHS last year, Myllynen moved into a nursing job at a private sector charity, so she did not participate in the RCN vote. However, she said she supports the decision, which she describes as a “last option,” and hopes it will help resolve the issue. It’s a problem he says he’s been building for years.

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

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