The first NHS strike over pay for more than 30 years has just come to a close.
For four hours, nurses, midwives, maintenance staff and ambulance staff from seven trade unions took part in a strike over the government’s decision not to offer a 1% pay rise to all staff.
Members of the Royal College of Midwives, Unison, Unite, GMB, UCATT and the British Association of Occupational Therapists took part in the strike.
Staff from two unions in Northern Ireland will be taking action from 11:00 to 15:00 today.
The action will be followed by four days of ‘work-to-rule’ which will see staff only working the hours they are paid for.
However, before the strike staff agreed to provide “life and limb” cover for emergencies.
A&E departments and maternity wards remained open, but many antenatal and postnatal care services were disrupted.
Hospital outpatient appointments, routine operations and community clinics were also affected.
Earlier this year an independent pay review body said that all staff in the NHS should be offered a 1% pay increase.
The government decided not to offer the raise across the board, instead letting staff at the top of their pay band have a professional development raise of around 3%.
Staff not at the top of their band would be offered the 1% pay increase, but the unions claim this amounts to a real-terms pay cut.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the NHS would not be able to afford as many staff if the pay rise was given to everyone.
"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.
Today’s action marks the first time that the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have gone on strike.
RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick said: "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."