NHS workers have marched, now they should strike (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Hundreds of thousands of NHS workers could ballot for strikes if the Tories this week announce a paltry 5 percent pay offer

According to the Financial Times newspaper, ministers will shortly announce plans to cap rises at less than half the rate of inflation and worsen the cost of living crisis. That will trigger many health unions to launch a consultative ballot of their members to ask if they are prepared to strike.

NHS workers’ pay is supposed to rise in April every year, but the government has deliberately delayed the process in the hope of muting anger at it. And ministers have deliberately underfunded the pay offer. 

NHS Employers say they budgeted for a pay rise of just 3 percent for the 2022-23 financial year. The government is not even ­prepared to add the additional ­2 percent to their funds. 

That means even a terribly low pay rise will in effect lead to health bosses swing their axe to cut services elsewhere. But as crisis grips the health service, wages could become a ­lightning conductor for resentment at low morale, poor staffing levels and huge cutbacks.

“With the hours being added to the end of my shift, I’m working 48-hour weeks,” Angela, an ambulance worker in Essex, told Socialist Worker.

“That’s because of all the time we spend queuing with our patients outside hospitals—and that’s now happening on all my shifts.

“It’s clear that my colleagues are getting burnt out because they are being so overworked. My service is now recruiting Emergency Care Assistants with only five weeks training and on wages not much above the minimum wage.”

Angela says her family’s energy bills have doubled to more than £500 a month and that the cost of petrol to get to work is hitting her hard.

“All that clapping during the ­pandemic wasn’t enough,” she says. “There needs to be a strike to get fair pay for all NHS staff.” Angela is right and NHS unions must move fast to capture the mood of anger over pay.

But there is a real danger they will do the opposite. Activists say Unison will launch a consultative ballot over strikes, followed potentially by a formal industrial action ballot. That would mean the earliest strikes over pay would be in late autumn.

This is much too late. Activists in all health unions must now pile pressure on their unions to mount a serious battle with a new urgency.

NHS pay is an issue for everyone. It doesn’t just impact on workers. Poor pay means it’s impossible to retain workers and shapes the quality of the care the entire health service can provide. With services in crisis it is even more important the unions win strike ballots.  They must act now.

Ambulance queue danger

NHS England bosses have written to all hospitals insisting they open more space for A&E patients. Their demand for “further ways to add additional beds” to reduce ambulances queues has been met with incredulity.

The health staff needed to run these additional A&E “observational areas” simply don’t exist.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has last week warned against providing care in corridors. One threat from long handovers is that ambulances with a build-up of oxygen inside may catch fire in this week’s extreme heat.

And now even suspected heart attack and stroke patients in some parts of Britain are being told it may take several hours before they can get an ambulance. The hospital and ambulance crisis is the price we are now paying for decades of cuts and “efficiency savings”.

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