Around 350,000 NHS employees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are being balloted for strike action over pay, which could affect services at more than 250 health trusts and boards.
Unison, one of the biggest unions representing NHS workers, has called on the government to award a second wage increase so that the health service has a better chance of retaining workers, many of whom are leaving for more lucrative jobs elsewhere.
In July the government announced a pay rise of at least £1,400 for most NHS staff in England and Wales, with an enhanced settlement for those on the lowest pay bands.
The health minister in Northern Ireland said he wanted to implement the same award but could not do so due to a political stalemate, meaning that NHS workers in Northern Ireland have had no pay increase at all.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said that strike action is a last resort and urged the government to addressthe number of workers leaving the NHS by implementing an “inflation-busting” pay rise.
Impact of inflation on pay
“The NHS is losing experienced staff at alarming rates. Health workers are leaving for work that pays better and doesn’t take such a toll on them and their families. If this continues, the health service will never conquer the backlog and treat the millions desperately awaiting care,” she said.
“It feels like the NHS is in the last chance saloon. But a vote for industrial action might be the jolt that convinces ministers to make the NHS the priority they say it is.”
A strike ballot by Unison in Scotland has been suspended following an improved offer of a £2,205 flat-rate increase. Health workers in the country had previously been offered a 5% pay rise.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is also balloting nurses for a strike over pay. This week it said low wages were forcing many NHS staff to opt out of the NHS pension scheme.
Nurse Jodie Elliott, from London, said she had opted out of the scheme because she could no longer afford it.
“My family had always drilled into me the importance of securing my financial future, but every single month I was getting to the bottom of both my overdrafts despite being extremely careful,” she said.
“I work full time and despite constantly picking up extra work, I just couldn’t make ends meet. I had no choice but to leave the scheme.”
A newly qualified nurse in England and Wales on a salary of around £27,000 would pay about £183 on their basic salary into their pension each month, according to the RCN.
The Unison ballot closes on 18 November in Northern Ireland and 25 November in England and Wales. The RCN ballot closes on 2 November.
Midwives in Scotland have voted to take industrial action over pay. Midwife and maternity support worker members of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) voted 88% in favour of a strike on a 61% turnout. Asked whether they were prepared to take action short of a strike, 94.6% voted yes.
Jaki Lambert, director for Scotland at the RCM, said: “Our members’ feelings on their pay and the derisory offer from the Scottish Government are patently clear. It reveals their disgust at a massively below inflation pay offer that goes nowhere near to catching up with inflation or makes up for years of pay freezes and pay stagnation. It shows that they feel just how little their dedication, commitment and skills are valued by this government.”