London, Dec 15 (PTI) Nurses employed in the UK’s state-funded National Health Service (NHS), many of them Indians, are joining picket lines up and down the country on Thursday in largest strikes in history to demand better pay and work. conditions amid a cost-of-living crisis.
Up to 100,000 nursing staff are taking part in strikes in England, Northern Ireland and Wales in protest against what they say are years of pay cuts in real terms due to inflation and concerns about patient safety. Another day of strike is also planned for next Tuesday.
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“For many of us, this is the first time we’ve called and our emotions are very mixed. The NHS is in crisis, the nursing profession can’t take it anymore, our loved ones are already suffering,” said Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
“It is unreasonable to demand better. This is not something that can wait. We are committed to our patients and always will be,” he said.
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RCN has campaigned for a pay rise and demanded the government allow the NHS to recruit and retain the nursing staff it desperately needs.
He said that since a strike was announced last month, he has repeatedly asked UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay to open formal pay negotiations, but ministers have rejected all offers.
The strike action means a large number of outpatient appointments and operations have been cancelled. However, urgent and life-saving services must be fully staffed, but many non-urgent services will operate with only a much smaller number of nurses who are usually on duty on bank holidays and night shifts.
Shortages of nursing staff in the NHS over the years have meant that foreign recruits from countries such as India remain in constant demand.
The latest figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) for 2021-22 show 37,815 Indian nurses on the council’s register of people qualified to work in the UK, compared to 28,192 the previous year.
While India is in second place, the Philippines remains the UK’s top country of origin with 41,090 nurses and Nigeria is third with 7,256 nurses on the register.
Earlier this week, final talks between the RCN and the government failed to call off the historic strike action.
“Our nurses are incredibly dedicated to their work and it is deeply regrettable that some members of the union are going ahead with strike action,” Health Secretary Steve Barclay said.
The opposition Labor Party has described the strikes as an embarrassment to the government.
There has been a flurry of strikes in what has been dubbed the UK’s winter of discontent, with transport, postal and airport workers among those striking for better pay and working conditions amid a crisis in cost of living
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