Health staff to ‘strike for as long as it takes’

NHS workers who are fighting for fair pay are pictured at the entrance to the Northern General Hospital on Herries Road.
NHS workers who are fighting for fair pay are pictured at the entrance to the Northern General Hospital on Herries Road.
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Health staff in Sheffield who took part in a four-hour walkout said the city’s NHS staff will continue holding strikes for ‘as long as it takes’ until a row over pay is resolved.

Members of 11 trade unions, including nurses, paramedics and radiographers, walked out for four hours yesterday, and will be working to rule for the rest of this week.

The strike was the second to be held amid an escalating dispute with the Government over NHS wages.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt turned down an across-the-board 1 per cent pay rise for all staff, despite the increase being recommended by an independent review board.

Picketing workers gathered outside NHS sites across Sheffield, and rallies were held at the Northern General and Royal Hallamshire hospitals.

Rachael Brown, catering supervisor at the Northern General, who waved a Unison flag on the picket line outside the hospital’s Herries Road entrance in Fir Vale, said conditions were difficult for some of her colleagues.

The 44-year-old mum-of-five said: “It’s hard – luckily my husband works, so we have two wages coming in, otherwise we would really be struggling.

“People will really be waiting on their January pay.

“Hopefully we will carry on holding strikes for as long as it takes for the Government to listen to us.”

Speakers at the Northern General rally included prospective Labour parliamentary candidates in Sheffield Harry Harpham and Louise Haigh.

Lynne Hancock, who works in the hospital’s blood testing room, said: “I’ve worked in the health service for 28 years and never thought it would come to this. It feels wrong, but at this time of year pay is important.”

Liz Elfleet, a Sheffield Teaching Hospitals radiographer and union representative, said she was ‘sorry’ to see a second strike take place, but added: “We’ve got staff who haven’t had a pay rise for five years, and the cost of living is going up.

“We’re just asking for a living wage. I love my job and I love the NHS but we have to do something. If this is the only way of getting people to take notice we have to do it.

“We’ve noticed more people out on strike this time. We’ve struggled to get people to come to work–- we had to draw names out of a hat.

“People feel so strongly that their first choice is to strike rather than work. That’s the first time I’ve seen that.”

Services for 999 patients ran as normal yesterday, but some appointments for procedures such as X-rays were affected.

Numbers were up on picket lines, motorists beeped their horns in solidarity and scores of passers-by gave their backing to striking workers at the National Blood Service facility in Longley, Sheffield - a sign of increased public support, according to donor carer Tom Smith.

Mr Smith, who was among staff denied a 1 per cent pay rise, said: “People joined the picket lines who didn’t attend the last one, because the offer workers were made is sinking in more, and people are getting more upset about it.

“It’s tough, because we’ve had a pay freeze for four or five years. I don’t do much driving now because of the price of fuel. I only live in Oughtibridge, but I pretty much only drive to work and back. Everyone’s feeling the squeeze.”

Tom said the blood service’s frontline staff were the worst affected by current rates of pay.

He said: “They’re usually the people on the lower pay bands. If you’re on a lower band, 1 per cent is very little money. The support from the public has been brilliant. We had a placard asking drivers to beep and support the NHS, and people have been walking past and wishing us good luck.

“I believe we’ll strike again, but the difficulty is the nature of our work. If we strike for longer I would support it, as long as it does not put patients at risk. We’ve got to get the message across Sit can’t carry on like this.”