Letters advising more than two hundred NHS employers across England that health staff, including paramedics, theatre staff, occupational therapists, porters and nurses, are to be balloted for strike action have been sent, says UNISON.
The union has also written to health secretary Therese Coffey urging her to meet and negotiate an improved pay award to avert action that could disrupt NHS services this winter.
UNISON has initiated a formal dispute after most NHS workers were given just a £1,400 wage rise for this year, falling way short of the inflation-busting increase health unions wanted.
Strike ballots for England, Wales and Northern Ireland are due to begin on 27 October and the union says this will “signal to the government and employers the strength of feeling behind UNISON’s key pay demands”.
UNISON says it is not too late for the government to think again and put pay right, an important first step in tackling the chronic staff shortages across the NHS.
The letter to the health secretary says: “Taking industrial action is a very serious move. NHS staff are only too aware that reducing workforce capacity, even for a short time, will have an impact on the delivery of services.
“But having exhausted other routes to prompt the government into action, many are concluding that withdrawing their labour this winter is the best way to help patients.”
The letter continues: “The tightening labour market means NHS staff have many more options for jobs with better pay and less stressful working conditions.
“The record and mounting treatment backlog, alongside further Covid surges, flu and other pressures expected to hit hard this winter, mean the damaging impact of this workforce crisis can only escalate.”
Commenting on the prospect of strike action across the NHS, UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “The backlog won’t reduce, nor waiting times and delays lessen unless the NHS can keep hold of its experienced employees and attract new people.
“A proper pay rise would help the NHS start tackling the growing staffing shortages hampering its ability to cut waiting lists and reduce ambulance delays.
“But disruption isn’t inevitable. Ministers could come up with a decent wage increase and a proper workforce plan. The ball is sitting in the government’s court.”
Notes to editors:
– The ballot of NHS staff in England and Wales opens on 27 October and closes on 25 November. The Northern Ireland strike ballot opens the same day but closes on 18 November. A ballot of health staff in Scotland began on Monday (3 October) and continues until 31 October. In all over 400,000 NHS staff will be asked to vote.
– NHS staff planning to vote yes in the UNISON strike ballot include:
- Eddie, 57, who has been working in the ambulance service for 36 years. He says: “The cost-of-living crisis is worrying us all. Bills have done nothing but go up. The fact that mortgages are rising will push many over the edge. I’ve not had a decent pay rise for more than 10 years, even the basics are becoming unaffordable. People are leaving but demand on the service is unprecedented. This is why I’m prepared to strike for better pay in the NHS.”
- Leanne, 39, is an occupational therapist assistant practitioner. She has worked in the NHS for 21 years and is planning to vote yes in the strike ballot. She says: “I’m dreading the next energy bill. The direct debit has already doubled to more than £200 a month. We’ve not put the heating on yet and won’t do until we really have to. We’ve bought second-hand blankets to keep warm. I’ve had enough of worrying about how I’m going to afford food for my family and am prepared to stand up for better pay. Without the staff the NHS is nothing. Patients need us to be up for the job. But for this to happen we need and deserve decent pay.”
- Gamu, 40, is a senior nurse and is dreading the coming months. She’s a single mum of three and was already struggling to make ends meet before the current crisis. Gamu’s had no choice but to go to food banks. She says: “Pay in the NHS has to improve. Staff deserve better for the work they do. I will be voting for strike action when the ballot comes because our voices need to be heard. Things must change for the sake of patients, the NHS and its staff. Our pay must reflect the work we do and the risks we take every day.”
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.