Health worker says she ‘cannot afford to heat her home’ as strike ballot begins

A health worker in Wales has said she will not be able to afford to heat her home this winter as a strike ballot over pay begins.

Lorna Hood, who works in Swansea, said her fuel bill has almost doubled in recent weeks and with other soaring costs the situation has become unmanageable.

The 57-year-old is one of thousands of NHS staff across the nation and rest of the UK who will start voting on Thursday over whether to take industrial action over pay conditions.

Around 350,000 members of Unison working for more than 250 health trusts and boards across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, are being balloted.

The proposed strike comes in response to the most recent pay award that saw most NHS staff on Agenda for Change contracts get a raise of £1,400, in line with the recommendation of the NHS pay review body.

The move has been described as “derisory” and insufficient to cover the needs of health workers after most health unions called for an above inflation wage increase.

Ms Hood said: “I already have spoken to my home energy supplier as I know I will not be able to afford to heat my home this winter.

“I am a single person and there has never been any support for the many single people out there, although you have to work and have to pay the same bills as a family.

“My outgoings have increased so much that fuel in my car has gone from £48 to between £80 and £90 to fill.

“I have to travel 50 miles a day for work and there is no public transport links, as the first train needs a bus link and gets to my workplace for 10am but I start at 7am.”

The health care receptionist said she is seeing friends and colleagues leaving the NHS to work in shops and for cleaning companies instead.

“They have been working for the NHS for many years but this is now impossible,” she said.

“Without these low paid workers the whole system will fail.

“But there are so many people suffering from stress due to unmanageable workloads and lack of staff – there is no incentive to work for the NHS.”

“We need to fight for ourselves while we can,” she added.

“If that means industrial action, we have to make that sacrifice as by January I know I may not be able to afford to get to work.”

Unison Cymru/Wales said it has heard from members who have been forced to remortgage their homes and, in some cases, live off a diet of bread and soup to survive.

Hugh McDyer, head of health for the region, said: “It is heartbreaking to hear of health workers who fear they may not be able to heat their homes this winter.

“Strike action is always a last resort but the pay award of £1,400 for health workers is nowhere near enough and leaves everyone in the NHS worse off.

“This is a real-terms pay cut across every single NHS salary band.”

Porters, nurses, security guards, paramedics, cleaners, midwives, occupational therapists and other NHS staff are among those being asked if they want to join the strike.

Around 50,000 Unison health employees in Scotland are already being balloted.

Hundreds of thousands of ballot papers are to be posted out on October 27 with the chance to register a vote closing on November 25.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson urged workers to “carefully consider the potential impacts on patients”.

Health and social care are devolved matters in Wales however the Welsh Government has said it cannot offer more money “without additional funding from the UK Government”.

Announcing the pay award in July, health minister Eluned Morgan said: “We have structured this pay award so the lowest paid staff in the NHS would see the biggest uplift in their pay, equivalent to a 10.8% pay rise, making the NHS in Wales the highest-paying UK nation for staff in the lowest pay bands.”

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