The strike by the health staff is among a string of industrial actions in the UK this winter, including agitations by rail and postal workers; airports are also bracing for disruption over Christmas.

The UK is currently grappling with a cost-of-living crisis as spiralling inflation outstrips wage growth.
The UK is currently grappling with a cost-of-living crisis as spiralling inflation outstrips wage growth. (AP Archive)

Nurses across the UK are staging an unprecedented strike as a "last resort" in their fight for better wages and working conditions, despite warnings it could put patients at risk.

Up to 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are holding the day-long stoppage from 0800 to 2000 GMT on Thursday after rejecting a government pay offer.

The strike at 76 hospitals and health centres would impact thousands of non-urgent operations, including tens of thousands of outpatient appointments in Britain's state-funded National Health Service (NHS).

"We have not chosen industrial action lightly," said Ameera, a senior nurse in London who gave only her first name.

The strike is the first in the Royal College of Nursing union's 106-year history.

"We need a pay rise now to make a living," added the nurse, who asked that her last name not be reported.

Britain is facing a wave of industrial action this winter, with strikes crippling the rail network and postal service and airports bracing for disruption over Christmas.

Of all the strikes, though, the sight of nurses on picket lines will be the stand-out image for many Britons this winter.

Union leaders and health workers also said nurses were being overworked due to staff shortages, as the NHS battled a backlog in appointments made worse by cancellations during the pandemic.

Chemotherapy, dialysis, intensive care and high-dependency units, as well as neonatal and paediatric intensive care, will be protected.

Care levels could suffer

But other services will be reduced to Christmas staffing levels during the walkout, the RCN said.

Health chiefs warned unions that care levels could suffer because of the walkout, just as seasonal respiratory conditions such as flu add pressure on already stretched services.

Cally Palmer, national cancer director for England, called on the union to exempt cancer surgery from the walkout, while England's chief nursing officer expressed concern over the strike staffing plans. 

Healthcare unions say their members are skipping meals, struggling to feed and clothe their families, and leaving the NHS in droves.

Successive below-inflation awards since 2010 have left experienced nurses worse off by 20 percent in real terms, they say.

'Badge of shame'

The RCN wants a pay rise significantly above inflation which surged to a 41-year high of 11.1 percent in October, falling slightly to 10.7 percent last month. 

The government maintains the demands are unaffordable, and Health Secretary Steve Barclay called the strikes "deeply regrettable". 

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen has offered to "press pause" on the strikes if Barclay agrees to talks.

The main opposition Labour party leader Keir Starmer called the strike a "badge of shame" for the ruling Conservative government.

READ MORE: Nurses across UK join other striking staff in two December walkouts

Source: TRTWorld and agencies