Thousands of nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have begun a 12-hour strike in a bitter dispute over pay.
The strike is the biggest by nurses in the history of the NHS, involving around a quarter of hospitals and community teams in England alongside all trusts in Northern Ireland and all but one health board in Wales.
Nurses in Scotland called off strikes while unions held ballots on the latest pay offer from the Scottish Government.
Members of Unite and Unison voted to accept the improved deal with the result of the vote by RCN Scotland is expected after the ballot closes on Monday, December 19.
Health minister Maria Caulfield said around 70,000 appointments, procedures and surgeries will be lost in England due to the strike. Thousands more will be affected in Northern Ireland and Wales.
She told Sky News: “Cancer surgeries are going to be closed in those 44 trusts in England. We reckon it’s about 70,000 appointments, procedures, surgeries that will be lost.”
The health service will be running a bank holiday-style service in many areas, though the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said it will still staff chemotherapy, emergency cancer services, dialysis, critical care units, neonatal and paediatric intensive care.
Some areas of mental health and learning disability and autism services are also exempt, while trusts have been told they can request staffing for specific clinical needs.
When it comes to adult A&E and urgent care, nurses will work Christmas Day-style rotas.
Picket lines have been set up at dozens of hospitals. Major trusts taking part include Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust in London, Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, told the PA news agency NHS trusts were “pulling out all the stops” to lessen the impact on patients.
She added: “The cold snap has ramped up demand that was already at or close to record levels, but on strike day NHS trusts will do everything they can to ensure that essential services are properly staffed and patient safety, always the number one priority, is safeguarded.”
RCN chief executive Pat Cullen has accused Health Secretary Steve Barclay of “belligerence” after he refused to discuss the issue of pay.
He has repeatedly said the Government is sticking to the recommendations of the independent pay review body, which said nurses should get a pay rise of around £1,400.
The RCN has been calling for a pay rise at 5% above inflation, though it has indicated it would accept a lower offer.
In Scotland, RCN members are being consulted on a revised pay offer from the Scottish government.
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