strikesThousands of health workers, including nurses, midwives and ambulance staff, took part in the first strike over pay for more than 30 years yesterday (13 Oct) but with minimal disruption.

Workers from seven trade unions took part from 07:00 to 11:00 BST in England, while two unions were involved in Northern Ireland. However, the unions involved, including the RCM, GMB & Unite, agreed staff would make sure emergency care was covered and, as a result, no major incidents were reported.

The Royal College of Midwives, for example, said in advance services for women giving birth were going to be unaffected with its members targeting antenatal and postnatal care.

The strike is being followed by four-days of work-to-rule from today in which staff will be refusing to do overtime without extra pay and insisting on taking their breaks.

As the walkouts progressed, reports emerged of ambulance services developing backlogs - but bosses said life-threatening cases were prioritised. Military personnel and police were also on hand to help ambulance services where needed.

Unison said they hoped action, the first strike by NHS staff over pay in more than 30 years, had sent a "clear message" to the government. Between the 7 unions they have over 400,000 members, including porters, cleaners and administration staff.

Below-inflation pay rise for midwives
Ministers in England have awarded NHS staff a 1% increase, but only for those without automatic progression-in-the-job rises.

RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick added: "At a time when MPs are set for a 10% pay hike, we're told that midwives don't deserve even a below-inflation 1% rise. And politicians wonder why the public does not afford them more respect.

"It feels to a great many people, including midwives, that there is one rule for them and another rule for everybody else."

An independent pay review board had said the 1% increase should be across the board but Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that hospitals would be forced to lay off staff if the recommended pay award was met in full.

"We have had very clear analysis that if we did that, hospital chief executives would lay off around 4,000 nurses this year and around 10,000 nurses next year," he said.

"The NHS has just come through a terrible tragedy with Mid Staffordshire when we discovered the most appalling care happening there and indeed some other hospitals as well.

"We have turned the corner on that by recruiting in hospital wards around 5,000 extra nurses in the last year alone. We don't want to turn the clock back on that."