Midwives across Britain are set to vote today on whether to follow nurses on strikes this winter.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) today sent ballots to 31,000 members in England and Wales, asking them to support industrial action over the government’s ‘offensive’ offer of a four percent or £1,400 pay rise.
The union is already discussing with members in Northern Ireland whether they are prepared to go on strike. And midwives in Scotland supported ‘overwhelming’ union action last month. The ballot in England will remain open for four weeks.
It comes amid a winter of discontent that will see hundreds of thousands of NHS medics on picket lines. Strikes among nurses were confirmed this week, while doctors in training and paramedics may also join strikes.
However, there are increasing numbers of members of the Royal College of Nursing to opt out of the ‘irresponsible’ action due to concerns that patients’ lives ‘will be at risk’.
The government has so far resisted calls to further increase medics’ wages, saying it “didn’t negotiate” with unions. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said yesterday that demands for increases of up to 17 percent are “unaffordable”.
Official figures show that at the end of September, 7.1 million people in England were queuing for routine hospital treatments, such as hip and knee surgeries – the equivalent of one in eight people (red line). The figure includes more than 400,000 people who have been waiting for more than a year, often in pain (yellow bars)
Meanwhile, emergency room performance has deteriorated to new lows. More than 1,400 ED visitors had to wait more than 12 hours for care every day in October (yellow bars), while the lowest percentage ever recorded was seen within four hours – the NHS target (red line)
A lack of doctors and nurses in the NHS is forcing bosses to pay high rates for temporary staff, analysis shows.
dr. Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said paying temporary workers comes at a ‘significant cost’ to fill roster gaps, but the move is needed to keep patients safe.
Figures from the BBC show that spending on agency workers rose 20 per cent last year to £3bn in England.
It said bosses were so short on staff for many shifts that they were willing to break government wage caps for agency workers, most of whom are doctors and nurses.
Separate data from Labor shows that some NHS trusts have paid as much as £2,500 to nurses to fill services. There are currently almost 47,000 nurse vacancies in the NHS.
dr. Clarke, a cardiologist, told BBC Breakfast: ‘Staff shortages have forced us to dive into government spending and pay for agency and local staff, and this naturally comes at a significant cost.’
She said some employees want to work as locums because it pays more, gives more flexibility and “takes them away from some of the unpopular terms and conditions.”
The RCM has urged all midwives in England and Wales to support union action in the four-week vote, saying the government’s wage offer below inflation was the ‘last straw for so many who already feel undervalued’.
If the midwifery teams were to walk away, the union said “safe services” will be maintained.
It comes after the RCN announced on Wednesday that historic walkouts will take place. Dozens of hospitals will be affected, with a ‘bank holiday service’ threatening to pile up further misery on an already paralyzed NHS.
In total, 176 NHS organizations voted in favor of strikes out of a total of 311 employers included in the vote. Some did not meet the action threshold of a 50 percent turnout and a majority in favour.
It has led to fears that lives will be lost with a ‘bank holiday service’ causing delays and cancellations of routine treatments and surgeries.
Cancer hospitals like the Royal Marsden in London and the Clatterbridge Cancer Center in Liverpool voted to go on strike, jeopardizing chemotherapy appointments.
Care in maternity and children’s hospitals will be disrupted, while nurses will go on strike at London’s largest hospitals, including Guy’s and St Thomas’.
The fact that not all trusts will hit is expected to exacerbate a healthcare zip code lottery.
But Neomi Bennett, an RCN member who works in London, said it was “irresponsible” for the union to support strikes and urged it to reconsider.
The 49-year-old told The Telegraph: ‘Patient safety comes first and I just think that no nurse should put a patient’s life at risk.
‘You old ladies and people who depend on the NHS trust us as nurses. I almost feel like it disappoints those people who are vulnerable. I just can’t, I don’t get it.’
“I’m not going to run away from my patients because I’m here for the patients.”
Ian Summers, a mental health nurse in Cornwall, told the… BBC“I voted no because I felt we would endanger patients.
“If we lower levels even further with strike action during this nursing crisis, patient safety may be the only outcome.
‘There is a crisis in the UK regarding nurses. The number of nurses on wards is at critical levels.
“If we hit, what happens to people who go to hospitals, people in the community — it scares me because the risk is already there.”
Newly appointed Health Minister Steve Barclay had a “constructive meeting” yesterday with members of the RCN, who have warned that strikes will begin before Christmas and could continue sporadically until May.
But Mr Barclay, who has taken on the role for a second time, said salary remains “a difficult point” after the hour-long talk.
Steve Barclay is said to be “on listening mode” and has agreed to meet “soon” with Pat Cullen, the boss of the RCN.
A senior source from the Ministry of Health and Social Care told the Daily Mail: ‘They covered a range of issues, both on pay and unpaid issues, especially on patient safety.
“They have agreed to meet again soon.
‘Paying is a difficult issue. We accept the recommendation of the independent assessment body. They talked about a series of issues on both sides and Steve explained the difficult situation we are currently facing.
“Steve said his door is always open. He appreciates the work of nurses and wants to talk to them about the concerns they have. He’s definitely in listening mode.”
The government has warned that the wage requirement of 17.6 per cent of the RCN would cost £9 billion to implement – six per cent of the entire NHS budget.
Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson warned that the grim figure is “just not available” in the current climate.
In addition to nurses, around a million NHS workers, including trainee doctors, midwives, ambulance workers, IT staff and porters, are being or are expected to be voted on strikes over wage demands.
An official charged with preparing the ailing health service for the months ahead of chaos revealed that “the use of the military is on the list of possible contingencies.” The move could see soldiers responding to 999 calls.
The British Red Cross and St John Ambulance can also be called upon.
After the nurses’ strikes were confirmed, a senior health insider told the Daily Mail: “Everything from routine blood tests, mammograms, smears, colonoscopies, skin biopsies, X-rays will grind to a halt if routine treatment is cancelled.
“They are all considered non-emergency, but everything is crucial when it comes to health care, including preventive action.”
The next result of unions voting their members should be Unison, who closes his vote on 25 November after asking 350,000 NHS workers if they want to go on strike.
With further strikes expected, ‘the use of the military is on the list of possible contingencies’ [to help the NHS]a senior health official told the Guardian. “It’s in the ‘not unrealistic’ scenario.”
The Nurses’ Vote marks the first time in its 106-year history that the RCN has voted its more than 300,000 members.
The Fair Pay for Nursing campaign is demanding a wage increase of 5 percent above inflation, which the government says amounts to a wage increase of 17.6 percent.
Nurses in England and Wales received a pay raise of at least £1,400 this year, but the RCN claims it effectively allowed them to work one day a week for free, which is about 4 percent for an experienced nurse.
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