13 Oct 2014

We’ve been carrying the NHS and now this’

It was – by mid-afternoon – being declared a victory.  Health unions across England and Northern Ireland said  “hundreds of thousands” had staged their first strike over pay in 30 years. In the case of midwives, it was their first strike action in their 133-year history.

And certainly, the support looked solid on picket lines across the country, despite wet and cold conditions in many places.

The strike is over the government’s refusal to accept the 1 per cent pay rise recommendation from the independent pay review board but it was quite clear, speaking to people on the picket lines, that it is not just about pay.

There was a palpable sense of frustration and grievance over three years without increases of pay while at the same time dealing with the extra pressures the NHS has been facing and continues to face.

One midwife said they had been “carrying” the NHS, working “above and beyond” their duties to keep it functioning.  “And now this,” she said.


The pay award means that any staff receiving incremental pay rises – given as they move up in their careers – will not be given the 1 per cent.  That is 60 per cent of NHS staff overall and 70 per cent of nurses.

The remainder, who are at the top of their band and who are therefore not in line for an incremental rise, will get the 1 per cent.

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said the NHS could not afford both the incremental rises and the 1 per cent.  He said it would cost £450m and that he had had clear advice that if they had to give the pay rise, trusts would lay off 4,000 nurses next years and 10,000 the year after.

When you drill down into these figures, the advice was actually that £450m is the equivalent of 14,000 newly-qualified nurses.  That is not the same thing as trusts laying off that number of nurses.

Indeed, post the Francis review, it would be a brave trust which let its nursing levels fall and it flies in the face of the frantic recruiting currently underway.

And yet it is the case that the NHS is facing its worst financial crisis in a decade and that any extra demands would require finding savings from elsewhere.  Many managers are saying those “elsewheres” do not exist.

Another interesting issue this strike has raised is over the balloting rules.  The Conservatives have pointed out that the turn out was less than 50 per cent.  In the case of Unison, it was actually 14 per cent.

So they are able to say that there was not universal support for taking strike action.  Unison’s Dave Prentice visibly sighs when this is put to him.

He says that they are hampered by rules brought in under Margaret Thatcher which prevent them from balloting in the work place, which require them to use postal votes and to send them to home addresses.  All of which means many go missing or are ignored.

The military and police were drafted in by London ambulance, which the unions said was provocative.  An agreement had been reached beforehand that any life and limb cases would be responded to and that, if necessary, strikers would leave the picket lines.

That was what we found at the Whittington hospital maternity unit in north London.  Antenatal and postnatal checkups were affected but they had ensured cover was available for any woman going into labour.

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10 reader comments

  1. Solomon Hughes says:

    It’s odd that Unison’s head office say these were the first NHS strikes over pay for 30 years. In 1988 there were a series of nurses pay strikes. In 89-90 a long running dispute with strikes by Ambulance Drivers on pay. Both strikes were victories, winning pay and beating Thatcher. The earlier, 1982 strikes referred to by Unison HQ were much less succesful. I don’t know why Unison HQ would try to erase the nurses and ambulance strikes from history – they were victories. Of course, they also showed that to win a strike, health workers had to be militant, grassroots led, imaginative, appeal for rank and file solidarity, and do more than a 4 hours “photo opportunity” strike, so maybe some in Unison’s head office don’t want those lessons remembered.

  2. lee campy says:

    the government wont give a 1% payrise but they will keep sending nearly £200 million to Afghanistan till 2017. this country stinks.

  3. Ian says:

    The NHS maternity services have been, to some extent, to be existing on the goodwill of midwives and other maternity staff. The ludicrous comment made by the politician saying that most would accept their pay rise as it was recommended by an independent body for a better service highlights just how out of touch these idiots are. If we were all in this together and no one, MPs included, were getting a pay rise I would not have stood on a picket line this morning. Finally, I also agree that there is no elsewhere to take the money for a pay rise from. One of the problems as I see it is there is too much bureaucracy in the NHS. For example, having to document a newborns birth weight up to 10 times is a complete and utter waste of a midwifes time. The word midwife means literally with woman and this is a large part of the problem, we spend too much time with administration, it work etc instead of with woman. This would lead, certainly to most women, a normal labour and birth which leads to happier and healthier women and their families and massive cost savings to the NHS.

  4. Omer says:

    Dear Victoria Macdonald,

    Thank you for the coverage on this topic today.

    Your infographic stated a figure of £450m but in the voiceover you stated £450k when talking about 14,000 nursing jobs and saying that the 1% payrise was not seen as affordable by the Government.

    I believe you should have said £450m in the voiceover. If you run this clip again, especially if it is available on 4OD, then please can you review and correct your voiceover.

  5. Vicki Farquhar says:

    Get rid of trident stop wasteing money it could give nhs workers 5% pay rise.why should mp’s give themselves 9% pay rise shame on them !!!!

  6. JP56 says:

    Watched the Conservative MP trying to explain why there is no money to fund NHS staff Independent Review1% pay award while explaining how MP’s had to accept their considerably higher pay award because it was awarded by an Independent Pay Award.
    It was so embarassiing watching him squirm I almost felt sorry for him!
    RCM lady showed great self restraint to almost keep a straight face.

  7. Philip Edwards says:


    A measly £450 million? Is THAT all?

    Well, Hunt could start by campaigning for his banker and “entrpreneurial” gangster friends to cough up due taxes. The same goes for gangster corporations. He could help close up the loopholes to economic rogue and money laundering states like Switzerland and offshore “tax havens” (read: bolt holes for hot money). That should collar something like £20 BILLIONS.

    Typically, instead, there’s a neocon tory threat to destroy even more lives of good people through redundancy.

    Lest we forget, Hunt is the former neocon conman who was poised to hand over even more of mainstream media to the thug Murdoch – until the hacking scandal broke.

    The fellow is an out and out liar and coward, a tenth rate bought-and-paid for bully. Like all tories he is intent on kicking a victim on the floor and then blaming him/her for getting in his way. A thoroughly detestable man from a thoroughly detestable corrupt part of British life.

  8. Mr J T Stuart says:

    Why not get rid of a few managers that should free up a few million ?

  9. anon says:

    politically surely this is a very good thing. It is recognised that there is a need to radically change the healthcare system, fund it properly, reduce workloads on staff but change also change the nature of the workits, so that those who need the help can get a lot more and those who do not are stopped from bothering GPs etc,

    also some of the fundamentals such as kindness and compassion needed in healthcare are not bottomless pits, if staff are given too much to deal with they have to ration this incredibly important but hard to measure part of healthcare, so good for the staff to openly fight for better conditions etc, this is far better than them being ground down and quietly leaving the profession, or perhaps going overseas,

  10. anon says:

    The Indie is running a story today that the NHS is to offer a tablet to reduce the risk of HIV. my view is this really is not the sort of stuff it should be paying for.

    People need to change their lifestyle rather than expect a publicly funded healthcare system to bail them out at a time it says it cannot afford to pay for certain drugs to extend peoples lives, or therapies to stop people from taking them etc. These are situations where people desperately need help and a lot more of it from the NHS.

    Where people lead lifestyles that result in medical conditions, they can actually do something to help themselves. The opportunity cost of providing drugs like this and similar treatments is treatment or time not being available with their GPs etc for those where life has cut against them.

    sorry but not sorry for this, it may sound harsh but it really isn’t. When the NHS -can- provide all the life saving treatments and drugs needed, then perhaps it might be ok to consider funding treatments to help people because of their lifestyles, but not before

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