Lewisham NHS workers took part in a four-hour nationwide strike today in an attempt to secure a 1% pay rise for all NHS staff.
The strike, which was expected to affect NHS services across England and parts of Northern Ireland, had an impressive turnout in the Lewisham borough as ambulance services, midwives and nurses formed picket lines outside their work place.
Pat, a midwife at Lewisham Hospital said: ‘We’re after fair pay. We’re midwives here and maternity support workers. We’re working extra hours unpaid, and sometimes we don’t even get the time back. We’re asking for the pay rise that we work for so hard. We are not paid fairly.’
The strike was called after the government refused to give workers both a promised 1% pay rise and an annual salary increment based on seniority.. Five unions called for a strike in an attempt to force Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to make more money available to NHS staff.
Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that hospitals would be forced to lay off staff if the recommended pay award was met in full.
He said: ”Nearly 60% of NHS staff get an automatic pay rise through their increments of an average of 3%. We can’t afford to offer a 1% on top of the 3%. We have had very clear analysis that if we did that, hospital chief executives would lay off around 4,000 nurses this year and around 10,000 nurses next year.”
Maggie, also an NHS worker at Lewisham Hospital said: ‘‘We want to get more than 1%. If the MPs can give themselves 11% then why shouldn’t we? But we also want to save the NHS from cuts and privatisation and the whole destruction of the health service as we know it, which is what the current government are trying to do.
“We’re not the ones who are responsible for the economic crisis, that’s the bankers. We need our Trade Union leaders, and our political leadership as well, to start galvanising some sort of backbone to fight this government, and if they wont do it then we will do it from below.”
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, accused the Conservatives of “lying” over their treatment of the NHS.
Under the coalition, NHS staff have seen their earnings cut by 15% in real terms.
Speaking to strikers McCluskey said: “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.”
According to The Guardian, the five unions involved in the nationwide stoppage represent less than half the 1 million staff in the NHS.
It is thought that the strike affected some non-urgent operations and routine appointments. Ambulance services were the most likely to be affected, and in London patients were warned that they may have to make their own way to hospital.
A man, who asked not to be named, was visiting Lewisham Hosptial during the strikes with his daughter. He said he feared his daughter’s appointment with a nurse was going to be cancelled, however it was only rescheduled until later that morning.
He said: “I support the staff, but I might have thought differently if my daughter had a serious problem that needed to be seen to at the time of my original appointment. I hope that no one else had any issues with staff not being available.”