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COVID-19: Public urged to join slow handclap protest as nursing unions being strike discussions over pay row

Written by on 5 March 2021

The public are being urged to join a mass slow handclap in protest at a government recommendation for a 1% pay rise for NHS workers – as unions warn of possible strike action.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has set up a £35m strike fund that can be used to provide compensation for loss of earnings and campaigning should members decide to down tools.

RCN chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair condemned health minster Nadine Dorries’ claim that 1% was “the most” the government could afford, calling it “pitiful and bitterly disappointing”.

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Minister defends NHS 1% pay increase

And Unite, which also represents tens of thousands of health service staff, has warned it too is considering industrial action amid growing anger at the pay proposals they branded an “insult” and “hypocrisy in its greatest form”.

Some health care workers have said the proposal would see them take home about £3.50 extra per week.

Ameera Sheikh, an intensive care nurse and Unite representative, said increasing living costs had left people struggling on stagnant wages – and that the government’s support earlier in the pandemic now felt “fake”.

Referring to the prime minister’s battle with coronavirus, she said: “We have treated people from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds to quite literally the leader of the country.

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April 2020: ‘The NHS saved my life, no question’

“We have sacrificed so much since the start of the pandemic, and that includes moving out of our family homes to live close to the hospital and protect our families and live in complete isolation, which is something that I’ve actually had to do.

“We are facing an increasingly dangerous workload in the intensive care unit, and a lot of staff being redeployed to ICU without basic intensive care training.

“Also, the lack of PPE and having to reuse PPE or wear expired PPE and risking our lives.”

Labour has also hit out at the government’s proposal, with shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth labelling it “disgusting” and party leader Sir Keir Starmer saying ministers must recognise the UK’s “COVID heroes”.

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NHS pay rise ‘disgusting’ – Labour

The RCN Council said it had quickly set up its strike fund in order to have the finances available to its members should they wish to take action.

“In setting up this fund, the RCN will create the UK’s largest union strike fund overnight,” it said in a statement.

Dame Donna also warned the government to expect a “backlash” from up to a million NHS employees over its announcement on pay.

She said: “The government is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers, and the public. It is not a done deal but the government has revealed its hand for the first time.

“With the time remaining before the Pay Review Body recommendation, the government can expect a backlash from a million NHS workers.”

Staff nurses work in the corridor in the Acute Dependency Unit at St George's Hospital Image: The Royal College of Nursing says it is to create the UK’s largest union strike fund overnight

The RCN had been campaigning for a 12.5% pay rise, but on Friday Ms Dorries – a former nurse – told Sky News that the government’s recommendation for 1% was appropriate.

She said: “We did not want nurses to go unrecognised – or doctors – and no other public sector employee is receiving a pay rise, there has been a pay freeze.

“But the 1% offer is the most we think we can afford, which we have put forward to the pay review body.”

Boris Johnson personally thanked NHS when he was discharged from hospital last spring, saying in a video message that those who looked after him had “saved my life, no question”.

He said during PMQs not long after, on 20 May: “We will want to see our fantastic frontline workers paid properly.

“That is, I think, the best way forward. I want to see our NHS staff paid properly, our NHS supported.”

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‘Claps can’t pay key workers’

A government spokesman said earlier: “Over one million NHS staff continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, which have delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly-qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2%.

“Pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be paused this year due to the challenging economic environment, but we will continue to provide pay rises for NHS workers, on top of a £513 million investment in professional development and increased recruitment.

“That’s with record numbers of doctors and 10,600 more nurses working in our NHS, and with nursing university applications up by over a third.

“The independent pay review bodies will report in late spring and we will consider their recommendations carefully when we receive them.”

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