NHS strike: Staff begin biggest strike in 30 years over 1% pay row

Nurses, midwives and ambulance staff are taking part in the four hour strike

Midwives, nurses, paramedics, ambulance staff, hospital porters and cleaners have walked out as part of the NHS’s biggest strike in 32 years.

The four hour strike, staged from 7am to 11am on Monday, is in protest against the Government’s refusal to give workers a recommended one per cent pay rise.

Around 400,000 staff are expected to join the picket lines, with members of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) taking part in the action for the first time in its 133 year history.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said: "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.

"The independent panel of experts who advise the Government on NHS pay recommended a 1% pay rise for midwives, nurses, paramedics and other NHS staff. Unfortunately, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt rejected that recommendation, and he and the employers decided that midwives and others won't get a pay rise this year."

Several other trade unions are involved in the strike, including those representing ambulance crews, paramedics, nurses and hospital porters.

NHS staff taking part in Monday’s action are those who have been hit by pay freezes or below inflation rises since the Coalition Government came into power in 2010.

The action will affect services mainly in England and some in Northern Ireland, but urgent and emergency care will not be affected. Extra staff from the military are understood to have been drafted in to man ambulances.

A recent independent pay review body’s recommendation to award all NHS staff with a one per cent pay rise was rejected by the Government, which elected to give the one per cent pay rise to those on the top of their pay band.

Unions claim that 60 per cent of NHS staff have therefore missed out on a pay rise.

But the Government claims it cannot afford the blanket pay rise. Ministers have given NHS staff a one per cent increase on their pay if they have not received incremental pay rises, which reward people for their professional development.

A spokesperson for the department of health told the BBC that it was “disappointed that trade unions are taking part in 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 to pay a rise in addition to increments – which disproportionately reward the highest earners – without risking frontline jobs,” the spokesperson said.

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Jeremy Hunt says the NHS has recruited an additional 5,000 nurses in one year

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the department of health is prepared to talk to the unions over the pay dispute “if they're prepared to look to reform the system of increments, which is unclear and unfair”.

He added: "I recognise frontline staff do a magnificent job in the NHS. We have had more than 650 NHS volunteers who are willing to put themselves in harm's way to help tackle the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

"We have magnificent people.

"We're offering them all a one per cent rise. The majority of NHS staff get an automatic 3% increment but we can't afford to give a one per cent rise to people already getting that.”

Mr Hunt said the department of health is coming through a “very difficult period”, referring to the Mid-Staffordshire scandal, adding that the health service has recruited an additional 5,000 nurses in the space of a year.

“We're recruiting nurses like crazy at the moment and to put that in reverse would not be the right move at the moment.

"The most important thing here is doing the right thing for patients. It would be irresponsible for any health secretary to accept a pay package that means the NHS has to lay off nurses,” Mr Hunt said.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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