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NHS will be ‘significantly impacted’ as nurses go on strike today say Welsh Government

15 Dec 2022 10 minute read
Health Minister Eluned Morgan picture by Welsh Government. NHS nurses at work. Picture by Victoria Jones / PA Wire.

The Welsh Government says it expects that NHS services will be significantly impacted by industrial action, as the first of planned strikes by staff begins today.

The Royal College of Nursing has announced its members will go on strike on 15th and 20th December, with further action confirmed later this month by the GMB union.

All but one health board in Wales – Aneurin Bevan which covers Gwent – are taking part in the strike action.

During the industrial action, NHS services are likely to resemble those usually provided on public holidays.

People in need of urgent assistance or with life-threatening conditions are being advised to attend emergency departments or contact the emergency services as they would on any other day.

As part of discussions ahead of industrial action, NHS employers and trade unions mutually agree exemptions from strike action, or ‘derogations’, to ensure the continuity of urgent or life-threatening care during any strikes.

Non-urgent or routine appointments are likely to be postponed. Health boards will inform patients and aim to reschedule new appointments as soon as possible.

The Welsh Government has advised people with non-life-threatening conditions to use the NHS Wales 111 digital service in the first instance. Local health board websites will provide the latest information on the strikes’ impact on local services.

In North and mid-Wales picket lines are expected at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, Glan Clwyd Hospital, Ysbyty Gwynedd, Llandrindod Wells Memorial Community Hospital and St Davids House in Newtown.

Picket lines in South Wales will be in force in Glangwili General Hospital, Prince Philip Hospital, Withybush General Hospital, Bronglais General Hospital, Morriston Hospital, Singleton Hospital, Neath Port Talbot Hospital, Royal Glamorgan Hospital, Princess of Wales Hospital, Prince Charles Hospital, Velindre Cancer Centre, Welsh Blood Services in Pontyclun and Wrexham, University Hospital of Wales and University Hospital Llandough.

They will be taking place from 7am until 7pm.

Fairly rewarded

Eluned Morgan, the Minister for Health and Social Services, said: “We believe all public sector workers should be fairly rewarded for the important work they do.

“The strikes which begin today will inevitably have a significant impact on NHS services. But we recognise the strength of feeling among staff, which the difficult decision to vote for industrial action reflects.

“While we were unable to avert this week’s industrial action, all partners have agreed to keep talking and continue to work together. We will work continue to bring together trade unions, employers and government to deliver the best possible outcomes for workers within the funding we have available.”

Midwives and maternity support staff have became the latest NHS workers in Wales to vote to take industrial action over pay.

Members of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) voted by more than 9-1 in favour of strikes and other forms of industrial action on a turnout of 55.39% as the results of a ballot were published on Tuesday.

Julie Richards, director for Wales at the RCM, said midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) in Wales were “exhausted”, adding: “The disappointing and unacceptable 4% pay offer simply reinforced their feelings of being overlooked and undervalued.

“Taking industrial action is always a last resort, and the decision taken by our members today shows just how desperate they are for policy makers to listen.”

Physiotherapists in Wales also voted overwhelmingly to strike in their first ever ballot on pay, the result of which was published yesterday.

Turnout was 63%, with 89% voting yes to strike action and 94% yes to action short of strike.

‘Do our best’

NHS Wales chief executive Judith Paget told the PA news agency: “This is an unprecedented event and the NHS in Wales has been working incredibly hard, in collaboration with the RCN, to be as prepared as we possibly can be for today.

“And throughout the 12 hours the strike committees, made up of NHS trust and RCN members, will continue to meet, talk and monitor the situation and make slight tweaks and changes as they need to.

“Without exception NHS organisations have said that the discussions with the RCN members have been cooperative and professional and that everyone is trying to work in the best interest of patients.

“I do understand the concerns that members of the public have but for those who need emergency care or advice the services they would seek normally will still be available today, and the pharmacies will be open, their GP surgeries will be open, the 111 helpline will be there, but also our emergency departments will be open and staffed and we will do our absolute best to make sure we support them.”

Ms Paget added: “But clearly I would be concerned about the ongoing impact of industrial action on our NHS, NHS staff and on our patients but it’s my role to ensure we respond accordingly to the action any union determines to take.”

Nurses working at the nurses station. PA images Jane Barlow

‘All the stops’

Around a quarter of hospitals and community teams in England are taking part in the strike, alongside all trusts in Northern Ireland are going on strike as well.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said it will still staff chemotherapy, emergency cancer services, dialysis, critical care units, neonatal and paediatric intensive care.

Some areas of mental health and learning disability and autism services are also exempt, while trusts have been told they can request staffing for specific clinical needs.

When it comes to adult A&E and urgent care, nurses will work Christmas Day-style rotas.

Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, told the PA news agency NHS trusts were “pulling out all the stops” to lessen the impact on patients.

She said: “The picture will vary across the country as trust leaders work out service levels with unions locally.

“But it’s inevitable that some operations or appointments will have to be rescheduled and trusts are pulling out all the stops to minimise disruption.

“The cold snap has ramped up demand that was already at or close to record levels, but on strike day NHS trusts will do everything they can to ensure that essential services are properly staffed and patient safety, always the number one priority, is safeguarded.”

RCN chief executive Pat Cullen has accused UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay of “belligerence” after he refused to discuss the issue of pay.

He has repeatedly said the Government is sticking to the recommendations of the independent pay review body, which said nurses should get a pay rise of around £1,400.

The RCN has been calling for a pay rise at 5% above inflation, though it has indicated it would accept a lower offer.

When it submitted the 5% figure to the independent pay review body in March, inflation was running at 7.5%.

But inflation has since soared, with RPI standing at 14.2% in September.

Meanwhile, in Scotland RCN members are being consulted on a revised pay offer from the Scottish government.

Ms Cullen said: “Nurses are not relishing this, we are acting with a very heavy heart.

“It has been a difficult decision taken by hundreds of thousands who begin to remove their labour in a bid to be heard, recognised and valued.

“It is a tragic first for nursing, the RCN and the NHS.

“Nursing staff on picket lines is a sign of failure on the part of governments.

“Our commitment to patients and safe care means that vital services are kept running.

“The scaremongering we have seen did upset some but also demonstrated the disrespect afforded to nurses for raising their voice.

“My plea to patients is to know that this strike is for you too – it’s about waiting lists, treatments that are cancelled year round and the very future of the NHS.”

Ms Cullen also said “nothing at all” had been done on Wednesday to avert the looming strike, telling BBC Newsnight: “The Government has turned their back on us”.

The RCN has also raised the issue of huge staff vacancies in the NHS, with 47,000 nurse vacancies in England alone.

‘Concerned’

Mr Barclay said nurses were “incredibly dedicated to their job” and “it is deeply regrettable some union members are going ahead with strike action”.

He added: “My number one priority is to keep patients safe – I’ve been working across government and with medics outside the public sector to ensure safe staffing levels – but I do remain concerned about the risk that strikes pose to patients.

“Nevertheless, the NHS is open and patients should continue to seek urgent medical care – and attend appointments – unless they’ve been contacted by the NHS.”

He said paying nurses more “would mean taking money away from frontline services at a time when we are tackling record waiting lists as a result of the pandemic.”

But pressure is mounting on the Government find a compromise on pay, with former Conservative Party chairman Sir Jake Berry saying it “is going to have to improve its offer”.

“We need to find a way as a Government, and the union does too, to get to that centre point, that point of agreement straight away,” he told Talk TV.

Midwives

During the strike, nurses will man picket lines at major NHS hospitals, including Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust in London, Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

Several trusts have already given details of cancelled outpatient appointments and planned treatments.

The Western Trust in Northern Ireland said it had “regrettably taken the decision to cancel some non-emergency services”, with 587 outpatient appointments postponed across Altnagelvin Hospital, Omagh Primary Care and Treatment Centre and South West Acute Hospital.

Some eight planned inpatient and day case procedures have also been cancelled.

The trust said there would also be reduced staffing in community nursing services including rapid response nursing, district nursing, community respiratory nursing and continence services.

Meanwhile, the Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust, the only specialist hospital trust in the UK dedicated to neurology, neurosurgery, spinal and pain management services, said outpatients and some elective treatments have been postponed or cancelled, but other patients should attend as normal.

Kettering General Hospital said it will be “stepping down some planned services and those patients affected will be contacted directly by our hospital”.

On Wednesday, the head of NHS Employers said “real concerns” remain about the level of cover nurses will provide for cancer patients during the strike.

In a letter to NHS leaders, Danny Mortimer said some aspects of talks with the RCN had been disappointing and warned that “unless the Government indicates a willingness to negotiate on pay-related matters, further strike dates will be announced by the RCN for January 2023 and beyond”.

A second RCN nurse strike is set for December 20, while thousands of ambulance workers will go on strike on December 21.

The RCN has urged agency workers not to cover for striking staff.

Elsewhere, midwives and maternity support workers in Wales have voted to strike, though the ballot in England did not meet the legal turnout threshold.


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Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
1 month ago

Well, perhaps if our country was anything more than a vassal state to England, if we had politicians in the Senedd who genuinely stood for Cymru and wanted our country to succeed, this wouldn’t be happening would it?…because we would be in charge of all the things needed to run a proper NHS …but Drakeford and Welsh Labour are too COWARDLY to stand up to Westminster, too ineffectual to demand more money and get it. “We are a nation of cowards!” should be the motto of the Senedd, because that’s what we are, a nation of craven little p****oles that… Read more »

Iago
Iago
1 month ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

Is this a serious comment?

Calling Wales “a nation of cowards” and then wants to run away to Ireland or Scotland…like a coward.

Wants Wales to be free and take responsibility for itself and is too scared to do anything without England and then wants Wales to demand more money from England.

No wonder people think the Welsh are stupid.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

Oh! Look…a photograph of the Baroness of Health…

Argol fawr!
Argol fawr!
1 month ago

Aha. Eluned Morgan surfaces! Where’s she been? The Liz Truss of Welsh politics.

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