UK nurses on historic strike…but why?


For the first time in the history of the National Health Service (NHS), over 0.1m the U.K. nurses went on historic strike, urging a wage proliferation of 19 percent to haggle with the cost-of-living and improved working conditions.

The members of the Royal College of Nursing and NHS staff went on a nationwide strike and walked out rigidly across Northern Ireland, England and Wales on December 15. However, they are intending to walk out again on December 20; while the nursing union in Scotland is reconciling a separate, individual fair pay.

Prior to this, the enormous industrial action was still unmarked and now happened in RCN’s 106-year history that it has gone on a strike over pay in England. The movement had flared up due to a high cost of living crisis that ultimately smashed down nurses’ spending capability practically three years after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is the world’s biggest nursing coalition and the most prestigious body comprising several nurses, midwives, hospitals, and community teams in England to promote better health care. As per Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a nurse’s average wage in the UK is €42,000 per annum. Moreover, Scotland nurses had no plan to opt for a strike and put forward their pay offers initially, but Thursday’s activity was defined as the greatest by nurses since the establishment of the UK’s NHS in 1948.

Uk Nurses On Historic Strike

“It is quite unparalleled,” Billy Palmer, a senior fellow at Nuffield Trust—a health research firm, informed CNN.  “While a few nursing squads have walked out before this, the National Health Service has never witnessed something like this until now,” he added.

That is somewhat because the RCN had a “no strike” guideline in the previous years. In 1995, the federation altered its regulations, permitting strikes as long as they did not compromise patient health and well-being.

“Patient protection is always important,” the RCN mentions on its website— stating that some nursing staff would go on with the work amid the strike. The RCN has deliberately vowed to continue providing vital services, including chemotherapy, dialysis treatments, neonatal and pediatric care amidst this month’s bottlenecks. 

However, numerous less critical clinic treatments were anticipated to be impacted across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Uk Nurses On Historic Strike

The nurses coalesced with several other British employees who were protesting in December—including rail staff, postal workers, and ambulance drivers. The main purpose behind the protest is less pay, which is falling flat in maintaining swiftness with the inflation rate that whacked a 41-year elation of 11.1% in October.

The Royal College of Nursing has summoned for a salary increment of 5% above the inflation, however, it has signified that it would readily put up with a lesser request. The government has held back, stating that the demand was unaffordable, and discussions between the two parties crumpled on Monday.

Biggest wave of turmoil in Britain

It is the widest and most comprehensive tide of industrial turmoil since the country’s contemptible “winter of discontent” in the late 1970s—when massive numbers of employees, including truck drivers and gravediggers, got on a complete strike. 

An aggregate of 417,000 toiling days was forfeited to strikes in October—the most contemporary month for which figurines are known, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Well, that is the most spaced-out number for any month since 2011.

The hodgepodge has certainly spurred the UK government and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to give immediate notice that tough contemporary regulations limiting strike activity are about to make an appearance soon. On the other hand, the RCN had denied an offer by the government to improve the nurses’ pay by at least £1,400 ($1,707) a year. The proposal mentioned an average drift of 4.3%, reasonably below that of inflation.

Uk Nurses On Historic Strike

Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary, and chief executive gave a talk the previous month that “enough was enough,” —and that nurses would “no longer handle a monetary knife-edge at their houses and a bare accord at the job.”

“The RCN truly understands that it is promising”, Palmer said. “Nurses are no longer “genuinely holding out” for such proliferation, but just merely taking it up as an initial step for negotiations.”


Nevertheless, that ultimatum is “not reasonable,” Steve Barclay, the UK’s health secretary, notified CNN in a proclamation. “Individually, an extra 1% income drift for the nursing team would amount to approx £700 million ($854 million) for the government”, he added.

Barclay spoke out on Twitter the previous month that industrial motion would inevitably affect services. Regardless, the NHS had “tried and experimented with strategies to lower the rate of upheaval and assure that the emergency services persist in running.”

Year of dispute

The clash just didn’t start abruptly; it has got origins in forenamed resentments. The 360,000 nurses who perform their duties for the NHS — the service’s biggest proficient company, have endured years of underinvestment, the RCN claims.

In 2010, the conventional union government undertook years of abstinence to retain the country’s financial condition conforming to the global economic problem. The salary declined by 1.2% every year for nurses between the years 2010 and 2017— according to The Health Foundation, a UK philanthropy that crusades for adequate health care. The wage was rigid for the first three of those years. 

However, income increments took place in the years that came after; but, The Nuffield Trust evaluates that the ordinary nurse’s income which is roughly £40,000 ($49,000) for skilled nurses operating the whole time has deliberately got lowered by nearly 6% after inflation as compared to the previous years. 


That corresponds to a 0.6% advancement in the salary held in the private sector, over a similar duration. 

“However, it is somewhat difficult to draw a parallel between the average salary of UK nurses with that of international nurses as the health sustenance approach contradicts enormously between nations. Still, it comes down somewhere in the middle range of identical economies”, Palmer said.

Uk Nurses On Historic Strike

“Generally we seem a little worse than Germany but a bit nicer than France, and we definitely seem worse than the Anglosphere, like Australia and the United States,” he said.

To some extent, the government has improved allocation in the past few years, but still, the boosts have been “borderline,” according to Palmer. Once inflation and demographic modifications are taken into account, the cost of living in England has significantly increased by 0.4% per year since 2010— Nuffield Trust data exhibits.

Uk Nurses On Historic Strike

Is low pay the only issue?

Salary is just not the sole issue. Nurses are even exhausted, partially due to a record of 47,000 vacancies in England. Nuffield Trust data demonstrates that 40,000 nurses in England, or nearly 11% of the aggregated nursing crew, had resigned from their careers in a year. 

However, an equivalent figure of nurses tied up soon— but, it was not sufficient.

Considerably, nurses retired. But, the other major reason for the departure— mainly the work-life equilibrium is nearly four times higher than the previous years. 


Pamela Jones, on the picket line outside at Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool, informed PA Media, “I’m protesting today because I’ve been nursing for 32 years and within those 32 years the transitions have been astronomical. I strongly feel sorry for the youthful girls who are currently making an effort to get into the profession. They have to spend on their training. The general people need to comprehend the tension that is going on. You should come into A&E and see the lengthy lines, there are no beds.” 

Nonetheless, it is merely expected that additional nurses could resign if conditions didn’t improve soon. An RCN survey last year indicated that 57% of respondents were deemed to quit; partially because they felt undervalued and were operating under extensive pressure.

Sally Warren, director of policy at The King’s Fund, notified CNN that the ex-decade had been challenging, as the team numbers had gone behind demand. And, the pandemic merely amped up the issues and crisis. 

“Nurses had to handle the iPad call between individuals who couldn’t be looked in on by their relatives during their last time,” Warren said. “It was nonetheless emotionally exhausting.”

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Yusra Sumair

I am an Engineer who loves to write and produce top-quality content. Writing has always inspired me, and I cherish every moment of it. I am also an author, a poet, and someone who can't live without tea!
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