NHS staff take part in strike action across Norfolk and Suffolk
- Credit: Ian Burt
Thousands of health workers went on strike today in protest at the Government's controversial decision not to give them a 1pc pay rise, including midwives taking action for the first time in their history.
Several trade unions were involved in the action, including those representing nurses, paramedics, hospital porters and ambulance crews as well as the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
The dispute involves over 400,000 NHS staff, who have been hit by pay freezes or below inflation rises since the coalition came to power in 2010.
The chief executive of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) praised front-line staff for ensuring life-threatening cases were still answered today.
About 14pc of the ambulance service's front-line workforce on duty went on full strike, with a further 31pc working under exemptions, meaning they still responded to the most seriously ill patients.
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Average response times were increased during the four hour strike.
Anthony Marsh, trust chief cxecutive, said: 'I would like to thank all our staff for their continuous and ongoing commitment today and during the industrial action, including working under exemption. We appreciate it is a difficult position to take; however it does enable us to provide the best care possible for patients.
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'We're aware of cases where those taking full strike action responded to potentially life-threatened patients which is very encouraging.
'It is of vital importance that we ensure as far as possible our service, and more importantly our patients, do not suffer as a result of this national issue. In the hours following the strike, we're returning to 'business as usual' as quickly as possible and I'd like to thank the public and patients for their support today.'
Fraer Stevenson, Unison branch secretary for the ambulance service, added: 'NHS staff care deeply about their patients, and taking part in industrial action is a very difficult thing.
'We worked closely with the ambulance trust to provide exemptions that many staff chose to work under, ensuring we could still respond to patients needing an emergency response. It's evident from the huge amount of support shown to staff today; the public hold the ambulance service in high regard for the difficult and vital roles we undertake. I hope the government reconsiders their stance over refusing to accept the pay review recommendations, and enters into meaningful talks with Unison to resolve this dispute.'
Harry Seddon, Unison's branch secretary at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said: 'NHS staff are always reluctant to take any form of industrial action, and in fact this is the first NHS strike over pay for 35 years.
'I would like the public to recognise that while this is about NHS Pay, our members are also concerned about the bigger picture, the underfunding of the NHS, the incessant pressure they are working under and the tremendous effort we are all making to deliver good care in the face of enormous demand – demand for which NHS organisations are not getting enough money.'
A spokesman from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn said the strike would have 'no effect at all on patient care'.
Contingency plans had been worked out, and union members will deal with emergencies.
The strike will be followed by other forms of industrial action for the rest of the week, leading up to a national demonstration in London on Saturday organised by the TUC under the banner, Britain Needs A Pay Rise.
Unions are protesting at the Government's decision not to accept the independent pay review body's recommendation to award a 1pc pay rise to all staff. Instead, ministers took the 'divisive' decision to only award a 1pc pay rise for those on top of their pay band, which unions say has denied the 1% increase to 60pc of NHS workers.
Christina McAnea, national officer of Unison, said: 'This is the first time in 32 years that NHS workers take industrial action over pay, and for many, it will be the first time. Up and down the country, hundreds of thousands of workers are out fighting for fair pay and for the NHS.'