In the past couple of weeks, there have been two NHS nurse strikes and one paramedic and ambulance staff strike. More dates have already been announced for further strikes in the New Year as unions and government fail to move forward in negotiations.
Documenting these protests, specifically in West Yorkshire although hundreds occured across the coutnry, I couldn't help but get a sense of the atmosphere and feeling amongst the striking NHS staff.
The picket line organised by the Royal College of Nursing outside Leeds General Infirmary appeared to be incredibly friendly, enthusiastic and was greeted warmly by many passing pedestrians. Some of these pedestrians passing by even brought cakes and other goodies to lift the nurses' spirits. Song, dance and laughter were the predominant actions of the day's industrial action.
On the other hand, the ambulance strikes outside Yorkshire Ambulance Service Headquarters, Wakefield, and an ambulance station in Leeds, Manor Mill, was more of a reserved and tense affair. Many of the paramedics on the picket line outside Leeds Ambulance Station were in full uniform with their radios turned on and ambulances parked nearby ready to respond to Category 1 emergency life-threatening calls. Perhaps this accounted for the less jubilant atmosphere? The nurses appeared to be very welcoming of media presence and the union press rep made herself avaiable to any press in attendance whilst the ambulance service picket line was far colder in its approach to media coverage.
Of course, these are just generalisations and observations of a snapshot in time during my coverage at a couple of NHS picket lines in West Yorkshire. The athmosphere across the country may well have been different. A common factor across both NHS Nurse strikes and ambulance services strikes was the emphasis placed by workers on funding for the NHS and the ability to provide a safe service to patients. Frontline staff were keen to point out it was not all about money, despite the Royal College of Nursing demanding a 19% pay rise, with many comments overheard about being understaffed on the wards and failing to respond to emergency incidents in sufficient time.
Perhaps the mood the picket line will change the longer this goes on? What seems almost certain is the dawn of new NHS strikes in 2023.