Health workers’ strikes to continue in the UK, government agrees to negotiations

Actions to protect the NHS and improve working conditions in healthcare are set to continue over the next days. Meanwhile, the government, which under pressure due to the protests, has come forward with the offer of a one-time payment

March 10, 2023 by Peoples Health Dispatch
Health workers actions UK
Protest against privatization of the NHS in the UK, February 25, 2023. (Photo: We Own It) 

Health workers’ strikes in England are set to continue even as the government has called nurses, ambulance workers, and physiotherapists to the negotiating table. The workers’ struggle to protect the National Health Service (NHS) will be backed by a general protest in support of more investment and better staffing on March 11.

While the government had refused to discuss workers’ demands for months, it recently changed tactics as the wave of actions continued to grow. In an attempt to limit the impact that intensifying industrial action would have on the already stressed NHS, the government first approached the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), and then other trade unions in the health sector, with an offer of a one-time payment to address the current cost of living crisis in the country.

Some trade unions took the government’s call for negotiation in good faith and put their action on hold, but others have been more reluctant to do so. Trade union Unite saw the government’s offer as not in line with the workers’ original demands. It claimed that a one-time payment would only temporarily mitigate the effects of the cost of living crisis, instead of an actual salary increase, which would extend beyond 2023.

While some health workers have begun negotiating, junior doctors are still planning to go ahead with their strike on March 13. Recent polls indicate that consultants might consider undertaking the same course of action in the following weeks. 

Read also: Health workers’ actions in UK escalate as junior doctors announce strike

Severe staff shortage 

The health workers’ actions come amid a massive health workforce crisis all over the UK. Hundreds of workers continue to leave the profession because of burnout and exhaustion caused by deteriorating working conditions. This has added to pre-existing deficits, leading to shortages of several thousands of workers across health professions.

In Scotland alone, there was a shortage of more than 6,000 nurses and midwives in September 2022, according to The Morning Star. The most recent data from the British Medical Association shows that NHS Scotland is short of 1,000 doctors, but the government is planning to employ only 800 in the next four years. 

The staff shortage, just like other effects of the pro-commercialization policies pursued over the past decades by different administrations, has caused obstacles in access to care for patients. Over the past weeks, patients have reported long waiting times when trying to access the care they need, including emergency services and dental care.

To prevent a further collapse of the NHS, which would likely lead to full blown privatization of healthcare in the UK, patients and health workers will be mobilizing together on March 11. Dozens of left-wing organizations, health workers’ organizations like NHS Workers Say No, and initiatives like Patients Not Passports have announced that they will take part in the protest. 

People’s Health Dispatch is a fortnightly bulletin published by the People’s Health Movement and Peoples Dispatch. For more articles and to subscribe to People’s Health Dispatch, click here.