NHS services hit as thousands join strikes

Hundreds of thousands of NHS staff are estimated to have taken part in strikes on Wednesday in protest at cuts to public sector pensions.

Dr Singer: ‘It was a fantastic show of support. To walk with people of all ages and from all backgrounds – nothing like this has happened in 30 years’

The strikes forced NHS services in parts of the UK to cancel operations and appointments.

Health union Unison said 400,000 NHS staff took part in industrial action across the UK – close to half the total NHS workforce.

The DoH estimate of NHS staff taking part was far lower, however. A spokeswoman said 79,000 staff – equivalent to 14% of staff in NHS trusts, foundation trusts, ambulance services and NHS Direct – did not go to work on 30 November.

Speaking in parliament on the ‘day of action’ prime minister David Cameron dismissed the strikes as a ‘damp squib’.

But Dr Ron Singer, chairman of the Medical Practitioners' Union, a branch of public sector union Unite, said: ‘If that’s a damp squib, I hope David Cameron never witnesses a firework display by the public sector.

‘It was a fantastic show of support. To walk with people of all ages and from all backgrounds – nothing like this has happened in 30 years.’

He said the strikes were ‘as uplifting’ as major public sector industrial action during the 1970s and 1980s. Dr Singer said that practices in east London that supported the strikes in an active way had switched to emergency-only services because of fears that large numbers of public sector workers in their area may trigger a wave of requests for sick notes on the day of the strikes.

He said many doctors took part in the marches across the country, but used annual leave to do so if they were scheduled to work on the day.

A DoH spokeswoman said that many hospitals reported that they had coped with demand and others said services were unaffected.

But the impact on services was more significant in some areas. One hospital was forced to cancel 20% of appointments on 30 November and almost half of its planned operations.
Across the NHS in England around 5,500 operations had been rescheduled, the DoH spokeswoman said.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey was among GPs who went out to show their support for the strike action, uploading a picture of strikes via his Twitter account.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley hit out at NHS staff who took part in strikes: ‘This inconvenience for patients need not have happened — it is the result of a wholly unnecessary strike called when we are still in active and substantive discussions with trades unions.’
However, unions have repeatedly said that the government has been unwilling to engage in meaningful discussions.

BBC presenter Jeremy Clarkson meanwhile has attracted criticism for remarks televised ahead of the strikes: ‘I’d have them all shot. I’d take them out and execute them in front of their families. How dare they go on strike when they’ve got these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living.’

The prime minister is reported to have dismissed the comments as ‘silly’.

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