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British Nurses Stage First Nationwide Walkout

February 04, 1988|Associated Press

LONDON — Nurses struck scores of government hospitals Wednesday, forcing many facilities to postpone non-urgent admissions and surgery until after the 24-hour walkout. It was their first nationwide strike in 40 years of the National Health Service.

The National Union of Public Employees said 2,500 nurses struck 42 London hospitals, and other walkouts occurred in scattered areas of the country. Non-nursing employees joined at some hospitals, but doctors did not take part.

Spokesmen for the Health Department said it had no immediate estimate of the number of workers and hospitals affected nationwide. The government-run National Health Service employs 515,000 nurses, who make up about half its work force.

Biggest Union Uninvolved

Britain's biggest nurses' union, the 265,000-member Royal College of Nursing, has a no-strike policy and did not join the protest. General Secretary Trevor Clay said most strikers were students or assistants.

No major hospital disruptions were reported, but about 1,000 supporters of the strike clashed with police who stopped them from marching to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's official residence at 10 Downing St.

Critics blame Thatcher's inflation-fighting policy for ward closures and staff shortages that have left 700,000 people waiting for surgery at the country's 2,000 state hospitals.

Chris McNeill, a union leader, blamed leftist agitators for the violence during the 24-hour "Day of Action," in which nurses are demanding higher pay and more government money for the socialized health-care system.

One hospital, Charing Cross, said it canceled some elective surgery, but carried out urgent operations, including a kidney transplant.

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