UK nurses walk out for first time in NHS history

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By Euronews  with AP
Nurses participate in a protest outside the St. Thomas' Hospital in London, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022.
Nurses participate in a protest outside the St. Thomas' Hospital in London, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022.   -   Copyright  Kin Cheung/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved

With national rail strikes bringing the UK to a halt, the country’s biggest nursing union walked out on Thursday. In the first in the National Health Service (NHS) history, around 100,000 nurses are demanding a wage increase of 19 per cent to deal with the cost of living and better working conditions.

Emergency hospital care will continue as normal, and nurses will still staff chemotherapy and neonatal and pediatric intensive care units, the Royal College of Nursing said. But many less urgent hospital treatments were expected to be affected across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Although nurses did not plan to strike in Scotland, Thursday's action was described as the biggest by nurses since the UK's NHS was established in 1948.

The Royal College of Nursing has called for a pay rise at 5 per cent above inflation, though it has indicated it would accept a lower offer. The government has said the demand was unaffordable, and talks between the two sides collapsed Monday.

At Wednesday’s Prime Minister's Questions in parliament, opposition leader Keir Starmer slammed Rishi Sunak for ignoring medical staff’s welfare. 

Sunak responded Wednesday that his government has “consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes."

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average nurse's salary in the UK is €42,000 per annum.

Across Europe, there are only 7 countries where nurses make more than €50,000 a year. The annual salary for a nurse in France (€35,531) or Italy (€29,222) was less than half the annual salary in Belgium (€72,508) and almost exactly half that in Switzerland (€70,965).