NHS to carry out military-style drill to prepare for winter strikes


Hospitals were today ordered to plan a military-style operation to prepare for devastating NHS strikes this winter.

Tens of thousands of doctors and nurses could walk out in protest over their pay in early 2023.

Officials are working to ensure each part of the health service is ready, in the event historic, NHS-wide industrial action goes ahead.

Action could see thousands of operations and appointments cancelled. Tories have warned it would be ‘criminal’ and risk lives.

The Royal College of Nurses wants nurses to get a pay rise 5 per cent above inflation, far above the around 4 per cent being offered by No10

RCN members are currently being balloted on a historic strike action, the first in the union's 106-year-history

RCN members are currently being balloted on a historic strike action, the first in the union’s 106-year-history

NHS England (NHSE) has told trusts to test their ‘preparedness’ with a multi-day drill codenamed Exercise Arctic Willow.

The operation — an extension of routine winter exercises carried out by trusts — will take place in mid-November.

Originally, hospitals were going to be asked to ensure systems were ready to deal with seasonal winter pressures, including the ‘twindemic’ threat of Covid and flu as well as the knock-on effects of the cold weather.

Similar resilience plans, arranged in the run-up to winter, can be carried out through table-top discussions involving senior staff deliberating over the best ways to tackle the threat at hand. 

Live play exercises are also used occasionally. This can see medics testing the trust’s response to a mock incident in real-time. 

WHAT PARTS OF THE NHS COULD STRIKE?

Nurses

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is urging its 300,000-plus members to vote in favour of strike action. Ballots close on November 2.

Junior Doctors 

The British Medical Association will ballot junior doctors in early January on whether it should strike over pay.

The BMA said it is ‘deeply concerned’ that continuing pay erosion will drive doctors out of the profession at a time of record backlogs and when the NHS ‘can least stand to lose them’.

Paramedics

More than 15,000 ambulance workers at 11 trusts in England and Wales are being balloted on industrial action over pay and ‘unsafe’ working conditions.

The GMB union said if the strikes went ahead, which could be ahead of Christmas, it would be the biggest for three decades

Midwives

The Royal College of Midwives has asked it 50,000 members to vote in support of industrial action when ballots open on November 11. 

Two-thirds have already said they would be willing to strike in a preliminary poll. 

Physiotherapists 

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) said more than eight in 10 of its 60,000 members are prepared to strike.

Members in Scotland must submit their ballot by October 31, with the CSP urging physios to vote in favour of action.

In England and Wales, voting will run from November 7 to December 12.

It makes the first time members have been balloted over pay in the CSP’s 100-year history.

NHS England said its task was ‘to be prepared for any potential industrial action so there is minimal disruption to patient care and emergency services can continue to operate as normal’.

Guidance was sent to senior executives across the 42 newly-formed Integrated Care Boards and individual trusts.

The letter was signed by Mike Prentice, NHSE’s national director for emergency planning and incident response, and Navina Evans, NHSE’s chief workforce officer.

NHS workers cannot legally be sacked if they participate in official and lawful industrial action.

A minimum staffing level would be in place to ensure patients have access to emergency care, urgent diagnostic procedures and they are not at risk of death or disability.

One union has, however, argued that this would see more medics working than is the case now.

The Royal College of Nursing’s first ever ballot on UK-wide strike action ends tomorrow, with results due to be announced next week.

Around 300,000 members of the 106-year-old union were asked if they were prepared to walk out in the ‘once in a generation’ vote.

It demanded nurses get a salary uplift of at least five per cent above inflation, which currently sits at 12.3 per cent. This would grant the average nurse, who earns roughly £35,600 each year, an extra £6,150.

Ministers have rejected calls to pay up, a decision which could have cost taxpayers an extra £1billion.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen has said the Government’s current offer — around £1,400 per nurse, in reality — ‘makes a difference to a nurse’s wage of 72p an hour’.

Midwives are also being urged to vote in favour of strike action in a ballot that starts on November 11 for a period of four weeks.

The British Medical Association, a union representing 160,000 GPs, consultants, and junior doctors, has warned industrial action is ‘inevitable’.

It is set to poll junior doctors — who are demanding a 26 per cent pay rise — in January.

Meanwhile, Unison is asking 350,000 NHS staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including porters, nurses, paramedics and cleaners, to vote in favour of walking out.

A ballot of its 50,000 members in Scotland, which was already under way, has been suspended after a new pay offer.

HISTORY OF NHS STRIKES 

Nurses Strike Over Pay 1988

Around 2,500 nurses across the UK took part in a day of industrial action in protest against their pay in January 1988, backed by other NHS medics.

Nurses were offered a three per cent pay rise, while national wage increases were set to be scrapped in favour of regional packages, under Government plans. 

Health bosses said just two per cent of the country’s nurses took part and 200 operations were cancelled. 

Doctors Pension Strike 2012

Some 100,000 NHS workers took part in strike action in May 2012 in protest against pension reforms.

It came after 94 per cent of Unite union members rejected the Government’s final pension offer. 

The union argued the contract would see nurses work until they were 65-years-old and pay an extra £30 contribution per month.

Health bosses estimated 30,000 operations were cancelled, more than 1million GP appointments were delayed and 200,000 outpatient consultations were rescheduled.

Junior Doctors Strike 2016

Junior doctors in England went on strike for one day per month in the first four months of 2016 to protest against changes to their contracts.

In November 2015, almost all of the medics – 98 per cent – voted in favour of industrial action.

On the four strike days – January 12, February 10, March 9 and April 27 – junior doctors refused to provide routine care. Hospitals cancelled 300,000 outpatient appointments in response.

On the final strike day junior doctors also refused to provide emergency care. 

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