Half a million heroic NHS staff walked out of hospitals yesterday morning in the first mass health-sector strike since Thatcher, as senior Tories admitted their NHS market reforms had been a “huge mistake.”
Hospitals reported that most non-urgent operations and clinics had been cancelled and bosses drafted in soldiers to drive ambulances, which Unison branded “provocative and unnecessary.”
The four-hour walkout follows a bitter pay dispute with Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who rejected even the measly 1 per cent pay rise recommended by the NHS pay review body.
At Homerton Hospital in east London, midwives told the Morning Star they were “insulted” by the pay offer. They were joined on the picket lines by local mums they had supported through childbirth.
Midwife Rachel Ferguson said: “Costs in this area are phenomenal. But for me it’s not just about my pay packet.
“It feels like the government is constantly undermining and undervaluing front-line staff in the NHS. It’s insulting.”
Her colleague Angela Barry praised the NHS for caring for her father and late husband in ill health. Speaking of her late career change, she said: “I left my very well-paid (thank you very much) job to join the NHS.
“So taking strike action is totally compatible with my emotional pull towards this service.”
Passing drivers honked their horns in solidarity with the striking workers.
Speaking from a picket line at Guy’s Hospital in central London, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Today was the first time in 32 years that our members in the NHS have taken action over pay.
“They sent a clear message to the government that they deserve fair pay and the government cannot take advantage of their good will any longer.”
Members of Unite, GMB, Royal College of Midwives, Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, Managers in Partnership, British Association of Occupational Therapists, PCS and Ucatt also took action.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey told strikers at St Thomas’ Hospital: “By taking action on such a miserable morning you are sending a strong message that decent men and women in the jewel of our civilisation are not prepared to be treated as second-class citizens any more.
“We also have a message for the Labour Party that if they get elected next year they have to invest in the NHS and the staff.”
Keep Our NHS Public chairwoman Sue Richards urged striking workers to get behind the NHS 2015 campaign, which flags up the grave threat posed to the health service if the Tories win a majority at the next election.
She said: “They will fully implement the legislation they have already put on the statute book with the assistance of the Liberal Democrats to force health commissioners to open up the health service to private companies.”
An unnamed senior Tory source told the Times that market reforms to the NHS pushed through by the Con-Dem government had been a “huge mistake” and that plans drawn up by former health secretary Andrew Lansley were “unintelligible gobbledegook.”
Labour shadow heath secretary Andy Burnham said: “Patients, doctors and nurses pleaded with the government to stop it — knowing it would cause chaos — but they refused to listen back then and an apology now is no use.”