2023 Paramedic and Nurse Strikes

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As well as Junior Doctors (and much of the rest of the UK’s public workforce), nurses and paramedics are both striking in 2023. Here, we will briefly look at the issues that are forcing these strikes, and consider the actual ramifications for the healthcare system.

What’s Happening with Paramedic Strikes?

Ambulance workers chose to strike alongside nurses on multiple occasions throughout the first quarter of 2023 – on the 6 February, 20 February, and 6 and 20 March. Each strike action includes all of paramedics, emergency care assistants and call handlers, and covers seven of the 10 English ambulance services, along with the national Welsh service. In other words, it’s not just those in ambulances striking – it’s the entire support force that enables ambulances to function. However, due to trade union law emergency cover must still be provided and staff can leave the picket lines to attend – in other words, not all staff will strike at once, as to do so would simply be too dangerous for the general public. According to the GMB national secretary, the goal of the strikes is to show that, ‘Ambulance workers are angry’ and that they are now out of patience. There will be a total of ten days of strike action.

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Why are Ambulance Staff Striking?

Paramedics and other ambulance staff are striking due to concerns over pay, their staffing levels – and thus over patient safety. According to unions, patient safety is at risk daily in the NHS due to the government failing to invest adequately in the ambulance service – in other words, ambulance staff state that they are fighting for the NHS. Without the pay crisis being solved, it’s highly likely that more ambulance staff will choose to leave the NHS – worsening an already-dire situation. The government is yet to act in a manner that satisfies the ambulance staff – and it’s all too easy to see the reason they are striking, with waiting times for ambulance hand-overs stretching to many hours, endangering patients’ lives.

What’s Happening with Nurse Strikes?

Members of the RCN (the Royal College of Nursing) chose to strike on the 18 and 19 January, once again battling both for better pay for themselves, and better safety for their patients. More strikes followed in February (with these strikes being much larger in scale), and a strike on 6 February specifically scheduled to align with the 10th anniversary of the Robert Francis report, which of course detailed failings in the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, where a lack of qualified nurses had led to sub-optimal patient care and thus to many unnecessary deaths. Strike action is taking place across 73 NHS trusts in England, and further trusts in Wales.

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Why are Nurses Striking?

According to the Royal College of Nursing’s website, ‘Unfairly low pay in our profession is driving chronic understaffing. It puts patients at risk and leaves nursing staff overworked, underpaid and undervalued.’ With such low pay, many nurses are leaving the profession, and thus understaffing is becoming more of an issue – a vicious cycle that in turn sees more nurses leave due to the pressures placed upon them. According to the union, ‘salaries for experienced nurses today are 20 per cent lower in real terms due to successive below-inflation pay awards since 2010.’ Therefore, the union is demanding a 19% pay rise. However, ministers have delayed any discussion over pay until the next financial year, meaning that nurses feel striking is the only way to gain the attention of ministers, stating that, ‘we are doing this in a desperate bid to get [Rishi Sunak] and ministers to rescue the NHS. The only credible solution is to address the tens of thousands of unfilled jobs – patient care is suffering like never before.’

What’s the government’s stance?

The government expresses sympathies with those whose ‘care has been affected as a result of strike action and we urge unions to carefully consider the impact on patients’ and states that there have been ‘constructive discussions with unions about this coming year’s pay process for 2023-4’, adding that they are ‘ open to continue talking about what is affordable and fair.’ However, in reality the steps taken have not been adequate to meet the needs of the healthcare workers striking – who justifiably feel that they are facing an uphill battle to receive the level of pay and support that they deserve.

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