Shocking news of the first NHS UK strike! The National Health Service is the publicly funded healthcare system in England, and one of the four National Health Service systems in the United Kingdom. It is also the second-largest single-payer healthcare system in the world. In recent years, the issue of NHS understaffing has come to the fore more frequently. Many people are supposing the real reason behind the collapse of the NHS medical system. Though the relevant official divisions have not achieved any significant improvements in the NHS system, it is thought that the strike actively held this November may have some active results.
In January and February 2017, the NHS found that waiting times in hospital A&E departments were at their worst since 2004. Although Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has given NHS managers a “kill order” to deal with 95% of patients within four hours and get them treated and discharged, in a bid to curb appalling waiting times. But this indicator for many hospitals, simply cannot cope with. Figures for January showed that only 82 per cent of patients were treated in time within the prescribed timeframe. Additionally, based on the findings that based on data from 1.8 million cases, the average patient waits 144 minutes in A&E before being allowed home. Rotherham General Hospital was reported to have the slowest turnover, with a median of 271 minutes. Due to the inability to provide a safe medical environment, Weston General Hospital in Weston-on-Sea was forced to close its night emergency in July 2017. To increase night shift doctors, a series of measures were taken into consideration.
Firstly, the government committed the NHS to hire 5,000 new GPs by 2020 to meet the growing demand for care. Secondly, the UK launched the “short-course Doctor”. This status is more like an assistant doctor, who works with a general practitioner or hospital doctor and can analyse the results of a patient's physical examination and perform minor operations (such as skin cancer and tumour removal and biopsies) to reduce the burden on the general practitioner. At the same time, the UK considered bringing in 2000 or more GPs from countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
2021 Staff Pay Trend
In 2021, by analysing official NHS staff pay data from March 2011 to March 2021, a health think tank reported that NHS staff in England have seen their pay fall by £2,949 in real terms over the past 10 years. The results showed a mixed pay drop for health care workers: nurses and health visitors, down £1,583; doctors, £779 less; midwives, a reduction of £1,813. Research and therapy staff saw the biggest drop, falling by £2,949. However, the government didn’t focus much on staff dissatisfaction with low pay.
This boosts the staffing crisis to a higher level. In July 2022, the health and select committee within UK Parliament confirmed what everyone working in the NHS has known for several years, the NHS has a major staffing crisis (NHS Support Federation 2022).
2022 NHS Strike
Remarkable industrial action dates
Source: NHS Employers
In November 2022, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) expressed that most nurses in Britain’s state-run health service (NHS) had voted in favor of strike action and that tens of thousands of nurses would take part in a walkout to demand higher pay from their employers. Strike action threatens to disrupt Britain’s already understaffed health. However, the government ignored the key reason behind the staff shortage, which includes low pay, work-related stress, and reduced job satisfaction, but insisted on claiming that the talent shortage is brought about by insufficient staff training.
According to Sparrow (2022), in a recent parliament conference, a series of staff shortage statistics was disclosed. It is argued that in Wales patients are waiting longer than before; heart attack and stroke patients wait an hour for an ambulance because the system has collapsed and in North London: Materiality can’t receive good care. At the same time, NHS Digital statistics reveal there were almost 47,000 nursing vacancies in health and care settings in England in June 2022. To try to understand why more nurses are choosing to leave, we can look to the most recent NHS Staff Survey which shows that 34 per cent of nurses often thought about leaving, 52 per cent had felt unwell as a result of work-related stress and 40 per cent felt burnt out because of their work. Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has accused the government of allowing NHS strikes to go ahead this winter because wider failures mean “patients are going to suffer” anyway so it wants to use staff “as a scapegoat in the hope that they avoid the blame”.
How the government actually contributes to staff shortages
Instead of thinking about how to increase employer benefits to increase job satisfaction rates, the NHS hires more international staff from all cultural backgrounds. Chapman (2022) argues that the NHS relies too much on overseas staff, which is an indirect reason for the UK’s domestic health staff shortage. To explain, even if it looks good, it brings some negative effects. Firstly, the national finance department has to invest a large amount of money to attract and train international medical talents, which means the department will leave limited funds for domestic staff. Secondly, when facing special periods such as the Covid-19, those international workers will fight for their countries, which means there will be not enough domestic professional medical talents.
The strike and the upgrade of the NHS system
People protest because it is widely accepted that the government won’t ban NHS workers from going on strikes so that people can blame all medical accidents on nurses and doctors without thinking about their bad welfare. Luckily, in some social media such as LinkedIn, the UK prime minister states that he is discussing with medical authorities to make efforts to upgrade the NHS system. It might be an uncertain long road for NHS staff to get proper benefits, but let’s wait for good news!
Edited and Reviewed by Tanish Bagga.
References/ Further Reading:
BMA. 2022. NHS medical staffing data analysis. Available at: https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/nhs-delivery-and-workforce/workforce/nhs-medical-staffing-data-analysis
Chapman, B. 2022. Health figures issue warning over ‘severe understaffing’ as it's revealed third of NHS doctors in England are non-UK nationals. Available at: https://www.gbnews.uk/news/health-figures-issue-warning-over-severe-understaffing-as-its-revealed-third-of-nhs-doctors-in-england-are-non-uk-nationals/379091.
NHS Employers. 2022. Confirmed industrial action strike days. Available at: https://www.nhsemployers.org/articles/confirmed-industrial-action-strike-days.
NHS Support Federation. 2022. Available at: https://nhsfunding.info/symptoms/10-effects-of-underfunding/staff-shortages
Sparrow, A. 2022. Shadow health secretary claims government not negotiating with nurses to make them ‘scapegoat’ for wider NHS failings. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2022/dec/06/rmt-mick-lynch-christmas-rail-strikes-rishi-sunak-keir-starmer-uk-politics-latest.