NHS staff staging four-hour strike over pay

Hospital sign Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The strikes are the first by NHS staff over pay in more than 30 years

Thousands of NHS workers, including nurses, midwives and ambulance staff, have begun a four-hour strike.

Workers from six trade unions are taking part, which will disrupt some NHS services - although urgent and emergency care will be unaffected.

The action - from 07:00 to 11:00 BST - mainly affects England, while some staff in Northern Ireland are involved.

Trade unions want a 1% pay rise for all NHS staff, but the government has said the proposal would cost too much.

Ahead of the strike, England's chief nursing officer Jane Cummings said "robust plans" had been put in place and patient safety "was a priority".

Military personnel and police have been put on stand-by to help ambulance services if needed.

Who is taking part?
Union Staff groups Number of members
Unison Nurses, healthcare assistants, ambulance staff, porters and admin 250,000 in England
GMB Nurses, healthcare assistants, ambulance staff, porters, admin workers and cleaners 22,000 in England and Northern Ireland
Unite Nurses, healthcare assistants, ambulance staff, porters and admin 92,000 in England and Northern Ireland
Royal College of Midwives Midwives 22,000 in England
UCATT Maintenance staff 480 in England
British Association of Occupational Therapists Occupational therapists 24,000

Although there have been reports in places of staff leaving picket lines to attend to patients.

Union leaders have always said their members will be providing "life and limb" cover during the strike.

The expectation was that 999 calls would be answered and A&E units would remain open.

However, hospital outpatient appointments, community clinics and some routine operations are expected to be affected.

The Royal College of Midwives, which is taking action for the first time in its history, has said services for women giving birth will be unaffected. Instead, their members are targetting antenatal and postnatal care.

Doctors and dentists are not involved.

Pay dispute

A spokesman for the Department of Health said it was "disappointed that trade unions are taking industrial action".

"NHS staff are our greatest asset, and we've increased the NHS budget to pay for over 12,500 more clinical staff since 2010.

"We cannot afford a pay rise in addition to increments - which disproportionately reward the highest earners - without risking frontline jobs," the spokesman added.

But Unison said the action - the first strike by NHS staff over pay in more than 30 years - would send a "clear message" to the government.

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Media captionHealth Secretary Jeremy Hunt says a 1% pay rise for all NHS staff, could lead to job losses

Doctors and dentists are not involved.

The walkout will be followed by four days of working-to-rule from Tuesday.

Image caption Unison has the largest number of NHS members of the unions involved

As well as the RCM, there are another five unions involved in the strike in England - Unison, Unite, GMB, UCATT and the British Association of Occupational Therapists. Between them they have about 400,000 members, including porters, cleaners and administration staff.

In Northern Ireland, members of Unite and GMB are involved.

'Fairer deal'

Ministers in England have awarded NHS staff a 1% increase, but only for those without automatic progression-in-the-job rises.

These, designed to reward professional development, are given to about half of staff, and are worth 3% a year on average.

From the picket: Dominic Hughes, BBC News

A boisterous noisy picket outside the Victorian facade of the old Manchester Royal infirmary has been made up of nursing assistants porters paramedics and for the first time in their history midwives.

Plenty of cars are tooting their support as they pass on Manchester's busy Oxford Road.

Inside the hospital some services will be affected and a number of midwives have already left the picket to go to staff a ward that was short on numbers.

So this is a symbolic strike but one that displays the real anger of health workers over pay.

An independent pay review board had said the 1% increase should be across the board.

It was implemented in full in Scotland. Northern Ireland has yet to make a decision on pay, while Wales did the same as England but did give extra to the lowest paid. Some unions are balloting their Welsh members about action there.

Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, said the offer in England was a "disgrace".

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Media captionUnison general secretary Dave Prentis says the strike is "a last resort"

"The fact that so many unions representing a range of NHS workers are taking action or preparing to join future actions should send a clear message to the government," she said.

"The NHS relies on the good will of its workers but we know that a demotivated workforce is bad for patients. The government needs to start negotiating with us and reconsider their pay policy."

RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick added: "At a time when MPs are set for a 10% pay hike, we're told that midwives don't deserve even a below-inflation 1% rise. And politicians wonder why the public does not afford them more respect.

"It feels to a great many people, including midwives, that there is one rule for them and another rule for everybody else."

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