HUNDREDS of thousands of NHS workers in England and the north of Ireland went on a four-hour strike on Monday morning.
Nurses, cleaners, porters, midwives, occupational therapists, paramedics, scientists, radiographers, admin, catering and security staff joined picket lines around the country.
The unions on strike were: Unison, Royal College of Midwives, Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, Society of Radiographers, British Association of Occupational Therapists, GMB, Unite, Managers in Partnership and Prison Officers Association.
They are now taking six days of action short of strike action, with a work to rule and an overtime ban. This is the second week of industrial action in the NHS in the ongoing dispute over pay.
At Whittington Hospital in north London there was a big picket of nurses, midwives and other workers.
Jacky Davis, a doctor, joined the picket and told News Line: ‘NHS workers are asking for 1% from a Tory cabinet of millionaires. It’s the frontline staff caring for the patients that keep the NHS afloat despite the fact that the government is trying to break it up and sell it off.’
At St Anne’s Hospital in N15, where most of the patients are mental health patients, Tim Loveridge, a Unison steward, said: ‘I don’t think we’ll get anything with this kind of action.
‘I think the leadership is waiting for the Labour Party to make things better and I don’t think that’s going to happen. We should broaden the fight over austerity.’
Elaine Johnson, Unison branch officer, said: ‘We all use the NHS. We have to recognise that all the workers, from cleaners, to assistants and all low paid staff – we need a fair wage for everyone.
‘St Anne’s is down to close and it’s bad for the patients and the community. Where are the patients going to go? I think the patients are getting a raw deal.’
When asked by News Line if she would support an occupation of the hospital against closure, she replied: ‘Of course it should be occupied.’
At Lewisham Hospital in south east London, radiographers, midwives and mental health workers joined the dozens of Unison and Unite members on the picket line.
Anita Down, Unite Branch Secretary, said: ‘We have to carry on fighting to defend our terms and conditions and for decent rates of pay. The trust is trying to recruit 200 extra nurses, but because of low pay that’s not happening.’
Jigna Patel, Society of Radiographers rep, told News Line: ‘We are fighting against low pay and for equal opportunities across the public sector. We need to be more noticed. They need to take the views of staff into consideration.
‘We are all committed to serve the community. The government should increase its derisory 1% pay offer.’
On the picket line at the London Ambulance Service Headquarters in Waterloo Road, central London, the GMB senior organiser, Andy Prendergast told News Line: ‘The turnout for today’s strike is very solid. Just about everyone apart from those agreed for life and limb cover with management is taking action.
‘It palpably shows the anger at the pay rise being taken away. The Pay Review Body has meant that the NHS has not had a pay dispute for 32 years.
‘Jeremy Hunt took his own pay rise as recommended by the pay review body. Our action will continue. The public is on side with us. And the government needs to sit up and listen.’
At the nearby St Thomas’ Hospital, Mary Sladden, a member of the RCM, said: ‘I think it’s a real shame we have to take this action. It’s an amazing job we do, we’re working long hours, we rarely get a lunch break because we are concerned the women will be without the care they need. Cutting the one per cent shows a real lack of respect for us and the work we do.’
Addressing the pickets, Jon Skewes, director of the RCM, said: ‘Public support has gone up since our last action in October. A survey showed that 82% of the public support our action.
‘In Scotland there was a deal where they paid what the pay review body ordered, in Wales, they got the one per cent as a consolidated pay rise. We need to continue the action until we get what we want.’
There was a large turnout of pickets outside the Luton and Dunstable Hospital in Bedfordshire, bolstered by the presence of radiographers.
The local society of Radiographers representative Julius Malilay told News Line: ‘This is our second strike action calling for a 1% pay rise for all NHS workers that has been denied to us by this government.
‘We have no option but to strike and show the government we are a force they should recognise and not ignore. We are a vital part of the NHS and we want a living wage.
‘The government dismisses radiographers as nothing, because they know we are here for the patients and they rely on this and think that they can get away with low pay and we will put up with it.
‘We fear that radiographers will be forced out of the profession because we can’t afford to live on the wages being paid. Also work conditions have deteriorated and we are forced to work 12-hour shifts with no overtime.
‘All unions should come out together. In the last strike we came out a week after the other unions. We need co-ordinated and synchronised action. We must all come out together.’
There were 200 workers on the picket line at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, north west London.
The DeLorean DMC12 car from the film Back To The Future arrived on the picket line to emphasise the drive of the Tory coalition to destroy the NHS.
Steve Sweeney, full-time official from the GMB, told News Line: ‘I worked as a health worker for 15 years. It is a damning indictment of the government that we are standing on a picket line because they are refusing to pay a measly 1% pay rise as recommended by the pay review body.
‘When the government needs money to bomb other countries they find it. And they fund tax cuts for millionaires. The Tory coalition followed the worst health secretary in living memory, Andrew Landsley, wrecker of the NHS, with Jeremy Hunt, who is even worse.
‘The reason Northwick Park Hospital is at the bottom of the A&E league table for waiting times is obvious, it is the strain of closing local A&Es, particularly Central Middlesex.
‘The local Tory MP has the cheek to claim that it was because of the pressure of eastern Europeans using the A&E.’
Chris Sunderland, RCM Health and Safety Rep, said: ‘We want fair pay, we want to maintain the service for mums and babies. If the pay is not equal to other professions we will not get the calibre of person applying to be a midwife. The bottom line is to maintain standards for mothers and babies.’
John Cass, Unison member and maintenance engineer, said: ‘I haven’t had a pay rise for five years, I am very disillusioned because everything is going up. I can’t even afford to heat my own home.
‘We should get rid of all the privateers from the NHS and bring back everything in house. We should bring back the hospital kitchen. The food for the patients is coming in pre-packed frozen meals, it has little nutrition and the patients don’t like it. We need everyone coming out together to save the NHS.’
Daniela Capasson, midwife RCM, said: ‘I am deputy matron for service improvements at Northwick Park and I work on IT projects, which look at how workloads affect healthcare.
‘By closing the maternity unit at Ealing Hospital the local community will be forced to tap into services not in their community. The culture, language and social skills have developed at Ealing to deal with the local population there.
‘When a woman is pregnant it is a very vulnerable moment in her life. In Northwick Park we would have the risk of delivering dead babies. The increased distance will impact on the survival rates of mothers and babies.
‘Last week a baby was delivered on the busy roundabout just outside the hospital. The father had to flag down passing cars for help. Travelling from the extreme side of Brent or Ealing with a woman in labour is very risky. Pregnancy is special because we are dealing with two patients, mother and baby.
‘There is no space at Northwick Park, they are not building any new buildings around the maternity department. We are delivering 5,000 babies a year and we are closing our doors to new admissions when the unit is full.
‘Midwives and doctors are dog-tired working at their best to care for patients. The 3,000 babies delivered each year at Ealing will have to be sent elsewhere. Hillingdon, West Middlesex, Chelsea and Northwick Park will not be able to take the extra patients.’
On the 50-strong picket line outside Deptford Ambulance Station on the Old Kent Road, John Scott said that coordinated action from all the unions would be the best way forward.
He said: ‘Do you remember the action on November 5th and the march on Parliament, well revolution is coming to the UK.
‘I think that the more of us that contribute to the fight, the better it’s going to be for all of us. I have two sisters who work as teachers, and what’s being done to them is appaling. This government are trying to get teachers to work until 6pm. It’s just child care. It’s nothing to do with education
He continued: ‘In the ambulance service we are really struggling for medics. Many of us are really disappointed because we want to become medics, but now we have to pay for our own training.
‘So the Ambulance service are getting their medics from everywhere else, like from Australia, but the Australian medics can’t drive over here, so they have to have two staff.
‘And yet the people who could be medics over here they are just pushing them out. It’s barmy, it’s absolute madness. And we are doing twice the amount of jobs that we were five years ago’ , he said.
Marcus Davis, Rotherhithe Ambulance Station Unison shop steward said: ‘I think the closer we get to a general election the stronger the action is going to get.
‘At the moment we are going for a four hour strike, predominantly on a Monday, but as the election gets closer and closer we’ll go for a six hour or eight hour strike.
‘A lot of NHS workers work 9am to 5pm, so there is no point in having a 24 hour strike. We had one two years ago and that was really hard work. But a four hour strike in the morning, and then again in rush our, that would work.
‘But we don’t want to go the way of the fire Brigades Union. They had a four hour strike recently and nobody knew about it.
‘Ambulance workers have been out in force. I think from the figures of the ambulance service 80 per cent of the workforce were out. That is a pretty strong turnout.
‘We need a strong leadership and the TUC aren’t giving it. With a strong leadership then people will turn out at every opportunity.’
At St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south west London, Bob Holdawanski said: ‘MPs got 65% over five years, we got 1% over five years. We deserve more than 1%.’
Ralph Miram, South of England RCM Organiser, said: ‘If we had a rise in line with inflation our midwives would be £4,000 better off, while NHS managers are getting £166 million in bonuses
‘It’s the anger our midwives feel that has brought them out.’
On a lively picket line outside the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital midwife Carmel McCullough told News Line ‘I have worked in the NHS for 34 years and never worked in conditions as bad as they are now.
‘The saddest thing is it is now difficult to provide the appropriate service for mothers and their babies. It is now normal to work for 12 hours without a break and never finish work on time – this is the norm today and it is expected of us. I think this strike is more about recognition of the service we provide rather than pay.’
On the picket line outside Hammersmith Hospital midwife Shelley Thompson said ‘We are striking over a paltry one per cent and it is ridiculous to say this threatens thousands of jobs. There has definitely been a media blackout for this strike because Cameron doesn’t want any more trouble.
‘I say get the Tories out because the NHS is really suffering because of them. If the public knew the damage that is being done there would be a general strike.’
Pickets outside Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith were joined by campaigners fighting against the closure of the hospital.
Unite striker Richard Stevenson said: ‘We have been getting hundreds of tooting horns from passing motorists , there is tremendous public support for our action. We need an indefinite general strike to kick this government out, that’s the way to defend the NHS.’
One of the campaigners, Desiree Craneborough, told News Line: ‘It is vital to keep this hospital open, especially since the closure of the A&E at Hammersmith which has seen waiting times increase. Hospital workers are the veins and arteries of the NHS and they need our support.’
There was an enthusiastic Unison turnout at Homerton Hospital, in Hackney, North-East London.
Ian Bain, there with his friends and colleagues from the hospital, said: ‘I want to send out a message to the government, that I think it’s unfair, that MPs have been awarded an 11% pay increase by the Pay Review Board. But hospital staff have been offered a mere 1%.
‘I earn less than a normal living wage, for someone working on London. To strike goes against the grain for most of us, but we feel that today’s action is necessary. We’re only out for a few hours, so it’s not a full strike, but more like a shot across the bows for the government.’
There were lively pickets at several entrances of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, giving out stickers, with a strong contingent of radiographers.
Liam Thetford, Senior Industrial Relations Officer of the Society of Radiographers said: ‘We’ve got quite a lot of support from radiographers. The patients are supportive.
‘There are a lot of cuts going on at the minute and this is the last straw – no pay rise for the fifth year. The Pay Review Body has been disbanded for next year and they are not going to produce a report.
‘There’s a lot of anger from the NHS. If it carries on, it won’t be financially worthwhile coming into the NHS, what with three years of Uni. Most are £25,000 or more in debt. The wage needs to justify the training.
‘There’s a big shortage in radiotherapy. Student attrition rates are high. It’s a complex hands-on job. We study physics in depth and its constantly developing. The latest independent review says they’re looking to increase radiotherapy services, but there’s just not enough staff.
‘I’m not happy with what the Tories are doing to the NHS, slowly breaking it up and privatising it. It should not be sold off.’
Unison Steward, Simon Mitchell said: ‘This hospital is now trying to turn itself into a mutual. This usually means its turning itself into a private operation, which could be bought and sold to the highest bidder.
‘It’s a continuing campaign for fairness in pay and conditions and to defend the NHS and all the public services. It would be nice if there were co-ordinated action by all the public sector unions.’
Unison picket, Matt Stevenson said: ‘When the government first came to power, they chose to drive a wedge between the general public and the public sector – to take the heat out of the city of London and the banking sector- allowing them to carry out their cuts. The trade union movement has got to stand up for the public sector.”
• see more pictures on photo gallery