LONDON – Thousands of nurses walked off their jobs in England on Thursday, escalating a wave of industrial unrest in the U.K. this month as ambulance and postal workers, bus drivers and airport baggage handlers all stage strikes to demand better pay amid a cost-of-living crisis.
Emergency hospital care will continue as normal, and nurses will still staff chemotherapy and neonatal and pediatric intensive care units, the Royal College of Nursing said. But many less urgent hospital treatments were expected to be affected across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Although nurses did not plan to strike in Scotland, Thursday's action was described as the biggest by nurses since the U.K.'s National Health Service was established in 1948.
The Royal College of Nursing has called for a pay rise at 5% above inflation, though it has indicated it would accept a lower offer. The government has said the demand was unaffordable, and talks between the two sides collapsed Monday.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Wednesday that his government has “consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes."
Train travel across the country also was severely disrupted this week as members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union staged a strike on Tuesday and Wednesday. They also plan to stay off the job on Friday and Saturday.
The strike closed around half of the U.K.'s rail lines. Some parts of the country, including most of Scotland and Wales, will have no train service.
Postal workers in the Communication Workers Union also staged a fresh 48-hour national walkout this week and have more strike days scheduled during the run-up to Christmas.