Gallery: Hundreds of health workers strike over ‘grossly unfair’ NHS pay reforms in Suffolk and Essex

NHS staff at Ipswich Hospital held a four-hour pay strike on Monday morning.

NHS staff at Ipswich Hospital held a four-hour pay strike on Monday morning. - Credit: Lucy taylor

Hundreds of health workers in Suffolk and north-east Essex today staged their first strike over pay in more than 30 years.

Midwives, nurses and paramedics mounted picket lines from 7am for four hours, and will take other forms of industrial action for the rest of the week.

Many workers went on strike for the first time in their lives, saying they never expected to resort to industrial action but claimed they were left with no choice but to stand up for NHS staff and patients.

SEE OUR PHOTO GALLERY HERE.

Unions are protesting at the Government’s decision not to accept the independent pay review body’s recommendation to award a 1% pay rise to all NHS staff.

Instead, ministers took the “divisive” decision to only award a 1% pay rise for those on the top of their pay band, which unions say has denied it to 60% of NHS workers.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt maintained that 55% of health staff will receive a pay rise of 3% and warned that giving all staff a 1% increase would cost 4,000 nursing posts.

But this morning a noisy protest was held outside Ipswich Hospital, where most passing cars and buses tooted in support.

Most Read

Protesting at the Heath Road site, Yvonne Cleary, Unison eastern regional organiser, said the Government’s refusal to give workers the pay rise was “grossly unfair”.

She said: “The pay review body has recommended just a 1% rise this year but the Government has said no.

“What they have done is divisive and is splitting health workers: those who get incremental pay are not getting the 1% rise, but those at the top are getting it.

“Health workers are fed up. They are doing longer hours and complex work and are not asking for a lot.

“MPs are getting a (9%) rise, but other people are struggling. Pay in real terms has dropped by 10% in the last three or four years.

“Our message to the Government is: we cannot continue to be treated like this. We hope they listen to us. If not, there will be further industrial action.”

She said there was a “terrific” turnout at the picket line despite the “appalling” weather.

She said: “Most have never been on strike before in their lives, but they have recognised that at some point they have to make a stand for the future of patients as well as the NHS.

“They are hard-working and dedicated and don’t want patients to suffer, but we have been able to convince them that there was enough emergency cover.”

She said health workers are being encouraged to take their breaks during the rest of the week, explaining: “Most of them don’t, but we are asking them to show what affect we have on patient care.”

Bob Cousins, the Unite representative at Ipswich Hospital, criticised the Government for refusing the recommended 1% pay rise.

He said: “They are claiming other nurses have to be got rid off to pay for it – so what are they going to do about the MP pay rise? Let’s see what money is in the pot.

“The 1% rise is a very reasonable and small amount. We can’t see why they won’t consider it. If it was 11%, we could understand it.”

Maggie Ulph, an occupational therapist at Ipswich Hospital who has worked in the health care sector since 1970, said it was only the second time she had decided to strike in her life. She took part in the protest over pensions in 2012.

She said: “I’m just so angry with the Government. If they think they can walk all over us, they are mistaken. We are going to fight them.

“There should be a 1% rise for everybody, and consolidated into our pay so that it is fair for everybody.

“We are passionate about our jobs and it was a very difficult decision to strike (because) we don’t want to threaten life and limb.

“We just hope the protest will have some sort of effect.”

Joanne Gardiner, who has worked as a midwife at Ipswich Hospital for 13 years, said she chose to take action to support calls for the pay rise she believes health care workers deserve.

She said: “It was good to support the protest, especially for our young colleagues coming into the profession, because we do a lot more work when I first started. It is harder than it used to be and I don’t think we get fair pay. We are not getting any more for it.

“It was a difficult decision to strike but the Royal College of Midwives recommended that we did, and I think the public will support us. We got a good amount of support during the strike and our message is: we just want our 1%.”

David Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich Borough Council, who showed his support at the picket line, said: “The way they (NHS health workers) are being treated is absolutely appalling.

“This is the first time that many have come out on strike in their history, which shows the depth of anger.

“If your mother, father or children is being treated by the HNS, do you want the (health worker) worrying about being able to pay the bills or feed their own children when they get home?

“What everybody who went on strike wants is for the government to honour the recommendations of the independent NHS pay review body.”

Mr Hunt said: “We absolutely will talk to the unions, we’ve been prepared to talk to them throughout this. We will talk to them if they’re prepared to look to reform the system of increments, which is unclear and unfair.

“I recognise frontline staff do a magnificent job in the NHS. We have had more than 650 NHS volunteers who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to help tackle the Ebola crisis in west Africa.

“The majority of NHS staff get an automatic 3% increment but we can’t afford to give a 1% rise to people already getting that.

“We’re coming through a very difficult period with the tragedy of Mid-Staffordshire. We now have got 5,000 more nurses in just a year. We’re recruiting nurses like crazy at the moment and to put that in reverse would not be the right move at the moment.

“The most important thing here is doing the right thing for patients. It would be irresponsible for any health secretary to accept a pay package that means the NHS has to lay off nurses.”

He said the Government had been given a “very clear analysis” that paying 1% to all staff would lead to hospital chief executives laying off around 4,000 nurses this year and around 10,000 next year.

An Ipswich Hospital spokesman said the disruption caused by the strikes was “minimal”.

She said: “We work with our local staff union representatives to make sure that our shared aim of safe care for patients at all times is achieved.

“There was a very small number of staff who did take part and we absolutely respect everyone’s right to strike.

“We were very glad we were able to continue business as usual without disruption to any patients.

“We have got strong contingency plans in place and will monitor the situation on a day-by-day, and if need be hour-by-hour, basis.”

A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital said: “We have contingency plans in place to ensure that we can continue to provide safe services for our patients during periods of industrial action.

“We have been meeting regularly with our staff and the unions so that we can keep any disruption to a minimum.

“A very small number of staff took industrial action on Monday and no planned admissions or outpatients appointments were affected. Anyone who has an appointment at the hospital should attend as normal.”

A spokesman for Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust said: “Approximately 50 staff out of a total workforce of 4,445 [1.1%] took industrial action for all or part of the four-hour period beginning at 7am.

“They included nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants, occupational therapists, finance staff, porters, pharmacy staff and medical physicists.

“The Trust and the unions always put the safety of patients first so there was never any possibility of patients’ being put at risk.

“The impact on services was minimal so, for example, all surgery and outpatient clinics ran as normal.

“However, we acknowledge the industrial action caused anxiety and concern for our patients for which we apologise.”

Meanwhile, the unions will meet next Tuesday to review the impact of Monday’s action, including how it was perceived by the public, and decide on their future plans.