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Why NHS workers are fighting back

Mental health nurse and NHS Workers Say No founder HOLLY TURNER explains why the unprecedented strike action taking place this month will be a turning point for our health service

WE are at a pivotal moment across the health service, with workers preparing for national strike action this side of Christmas. The Royal College of Nursing achieved a historic strike mandate for the first time in its 109-year history and we will see walkouts on December 15 and 20.

Additionally, GMB, Unison and Unite have confirmed that there will be national walkouts across the ambulance service with a plan to co-ordinate dates for maximum disruption.

This is not a decision which staff will have taken lightly. Parts of the NHS are suffering unprecedented pressure for this time of year. The recruitment and retention crisis continues with over 100,000 vacancies and many staff leaving to work for an agency, to work in the private sector or leaving the profession altogether.

Waiting lists are at record highs and alarmingly, this week, there were no acute paediatric beds available across London. Within the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service where I work, children as young as five are waiting up to 12 months just to attend an initial assessment. This simply cannot continue and is why we are seeing NHS staff organise like never before.

Workers are overwhelmingly rejecting the 2022 pay award, which is yet another real-terms pay cut which will only intensify the staffing crisis and push thousands more workers further into financial difficulty as we face more hardship due to the ever-deepening cost-of-living crisis.

Hospitals now have foodbanks for staff, several are handing out welfare packages and are giving staff access to donated school uniforms for their children — and we have even heard reports of NHS Staff sleeping in their cars as they cannot afford the fuel to and from work.

With “austerity 2.0” now confirmed, many of these issues are just going to get worse and worse in the years ahead if things don’t change.

Aside from the difficulties the workforce is facing, our patients are really suffering as well. Staff are struggling to offer patient care at the standard which we would all expect. This only inflicts further injuries on a burnt-out and demoralised workforce across all of the NHS.

To give just one example, mental health nurses at my local accident and emergency have reported assessing patients outside between parked cars due to the lack of available space to attend to people presenting in crisis.

Many trusts sadly did not reach a mandate to strike, but we are encouraging members to not be disheartened: it is important to emphasise that we have already come so far at this point and have achieved the best ballot results for decades.

We hope that staff will use their frustration and anger to become reps for their unions, join campaigns and strengthen our voice collectively.

Nationally, we encourage everyone to support the strikes on December 15 and 20, and also be ready for new dates which will be released imminently.

In terms of the priorities of NHS Workers Say No, we will also continue to campaign for the anti-trade unions laws to be repealed as they are a deliberate barrier to organising union members and they do not represent democracy. We will continue to build the movements against austerity, against attacks on our right to resist, and indeed, to get the Tories out.

I urge all Morning Star readers to please find your local NHS picket lines or protests this month, support each other and keep giving maximum solidarity to all workers taking action against this government, in the NHS and beyond.

Follow Holly Turner on Twitter @SocialistHB and NHS Workers Say No @NurseSayNo.

Holly Turner will be speaking at the conference Solidarity, Struggle, Socialism on Saturday December 10, 10am at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. Join her plus Diane Abbott MP, John McDonnell MP, Nadia Whittome MP, Richard Burgon MP, Jon Trickett MP, Sarah Woolley, BFAWU general secretary, Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, Dave Ward, CWU general secretary, Mick Whelan, Aslef general secretary, Zita Holbourne, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, Lord John Hendy KC, Hilary Schan, Momentum, Heidi Chow, Debt Justice, Steve Howell and more. Register at bit.ly/ariseconference2022.

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