top of page
Search
  • snitzoid

Socialized medicine a big success in the UK! Just kidding.


What a sh-t show! Not that we're great. Looks like having the gov take over medicine isn't the answer. Shocker.


U.K. Nurses Stage Biggest Ever Strike as Health System Strains

High inflation eats into nurses’ wages as stress from workload and pandemic lingers


By Max Colchester, WSJ



Dec. 15, 2022 11:21 am ET


LONDON—British nurses Thursday staged their largest mass walkout, stretching the country’s already creaking nationalized healthcare system and ratcheting up pressure on a government grappling with severe economic headwinds.


Tens of thousands of nurses went on strike for the day across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, arguing that they are underpaid, as the National Health Service struggles to digest double-digit inflation and a vast backlog of work caused by the pandemic. They plan another day of strikes next week, along with ambulance drivers, who said they would only pick up patients suffering life-or-death emergencies.


“We have seen years of under-inflation pay and the care we provide to patients has suffered as a result,” said Annie-Rose Henry, a nurse who stood in a picket line during freezing weather on Thursday outside Guy’s Hospital in central London. “Nurses are deflated, burned out and they are leaving.”


The unusual nurses strike—the last one dates back to the 1980s—is the latest testament to the trouble facing the National Health Service. The NHS, long treasured and funded by British taxpayers, delivers free care to all. But the service is under unprecedented strain following years of relative underinvestment and growing demand from an older, sicker population, according to government figures.


Currently, a record 7.2 million patients in England, equivalent to more than one in 10 of the U.K. population, are on waiting lists for elective hospital treatment like hip replacements. People who suffer heart attacks or strokes on average now have to wait an hour for an ambulance, well over the NHS’s target of 18 minutes. More than 400,000 people in England have been waiting over a year for hospital treatment. That compares with 1,613 people waiting as long just before the pandemic.


The members of the Royal College of Nursing, a union, say they want pay rises of 5% over the current 10.7% inflation rate. The government has so far said no, offering 4% instead. If no deal is reached, there could be further strikes next year, adding disruption to health services, union leaders have warned. “While strikes will cause inevitable disruption to services, local NHS teams have worked hard to maintain as many appointments as possible,” NHS Deputy Chief Nursing Officer Charlotte McArdle said.


The NHS has fewer doctors and fewer hospital beds compared with European Union countries on average, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a Paris-based group of mostly wealthy countries. The state-run service is also just emerging from the longest funding squeeze in its history, with health spending rising by only 1.5% a year between 2009 and 2019 despite a growing and aging population, below a historical annual average increase of 3.6%, according to government data.



Striking nurses outside St.Thomas’ Hospital in London on Thursday. Nurses are asking for pay rises of 5% above inflation.

PHOTO: ANDY RAIN/SHUTTERSTOCK

This lean system has left the NHS vulnerable to crises. Since 2019, and during the pandemic that followed, the Conservative government has sharply increased funds to the NHS, and has boosted staffing levels. But inflation is now eating away at the extra funds made available. “NHS has been allocated additional cash, but this has been sufficient to undo only around half of the real-terms hit from higher inflation,” says the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Despite receiving more funding than at any time in its past, the NHS is on the whole treating fewer patients than before the pandemic, the IFS says.


Between 2011 and 2021 nurses’ pay fell by 5% when adjusted for inflation, according to the Health Foundation, an independent charity in London. On average, U.K. nurses’ earnings are lower than nurses in countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S., when compared with average wages in those countries, according to the OECD. In the U.K., a nurse with four years’ experience can expect to earn £33,000, or around $40,000, a year.


Nurses’ wages in the U.K. are set by an independent pay review body made up of healthcare experts and economists, which in July recommended a 4% pay increase. It also said that since 1989, gross earnings of nurses and health visitors have grown faster than police officers and schoolteachers. Last year, for instance, healthcare workers got a 3% pay rise while other public-sector workers had their pay rises frozen.


The government, wary of triggering increased pay demands across all U.K. public-sector workers, has declined to pay more than the review’s recommendations.


U.K. Health Secretary Steve Barclay said giving bigger pay rises would eat into money aimed at the overall health service, including reducing backlogs. “And if everyone in the public sector were to get an increase in line with inflation, that would be costing £28 billion at a time when the government has to get inflation under control, because that is the biggest factor in terms of people’s cost of living,” he told the British Broadcasting Corp.


For some nurses, a below-average pay rise was a final blow in addition to the workload and stress from the pandemic, as well as growing strains in the workplace from an overburdened health system.


“It reached a boiling point, we lost a lot of nurses and people were put under a lot of pressure and at the end of it to be hit by another below-inflation pay rise, we’ve seen loads of people leave the profession,” says Ms. Henry, who has worked in the NHS for seven years.


Over the past year, more than 34,000 nurses left their role in the NHS, an increase of 25% on the previous year, according to the King’s Fund, a healthcare think tank. There are currently 47,500 nursing vacancies, according to NHS data, the highest number since 2018. The increase is largely attributed to burnout and poor pay. The most-recent NHS staff survey showed that just over half of employees had felt unwell as a result of work-related stress and 40% felt burned out because of their work.


The nurses tailored the strike to ensure that emergency care was provided to those who need it, however non-urgent care wasn’t provided, likely further worsening the backlog in treatments and causing delays for many appointments. However, the strikes are largely supported by the British public. Some 50% of Britons back NHS workers going on strike, while 34% are against the move, according to a poll published this week by Ipsos.


“Without nurses there is no NHS,” says Ms. Henry, who stood outside the hospital as passing cars honked their horns in support of the placard-waving nurses.


Write to Max Colchester at Max.Colchester@wsj.com

4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page