Currently, there are massive nursing strikes and hospital walkouts in both the US and the UK. Though the reasons for these international nursing strikes correlate, the circumstances differ. These differences stem from healthcare systems, as the UK has universal healthcare, and the US does not.
Both the strikes in New York and in London have to do with post-COVID-19 working conditions. Staff shortages make for unsafe working conditions, and excessive patient input and cyclical staff sickness weigh heavily on the healthcare community. In the UK, hospitals have tremendous staff shortages and are overworking their nurses, who demand higher wages. One UK protester said, “With the high stress and skill that our work represents, we desire the wage we give” (Daily).
Although British and American nurses are striking for similar reasons, it is important to consider the different healthcare systems between these nations. In the US, hospitals are mainly for-profit organizations; therefore, healthcare becomes expensive. Although there are non-profit hospitals in the US, they usually charge the same as for-profit hospitals. Providence Hospital (a non-profit) serves as an example of why nonprofits are similar to for-profits: “Providence turned to the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. The firm’s assignment was to maximize the money that Providence collected from its patients” according to five current and former executives (New York Times). They often juxtapose their purpose against their profit prioritization. They might as well just call themselves for-profit. But how else would they compete with for-profits?
Also, due to the privatization of hospitals in the US, travel nurses and healthcare workers get paid far more. In the US, nurses get paid the highest in the world (not factoring in their higher student debt—the US nursing debt average is 44,999 USD, while the UK nursing debt average is 27,295 pounds). In the UK, all nurses get paid roughly the same depending on their education level (30-45k pounds). This is far less than the national average of $82,750 in the US. Because of the higher pay, the US nurse labor force is larger and, on average, provides higher quality care. Also, privatized hospitals in the US can move nurses around to avoid staff shortages and unsafe
labor conditions. The US pays travel nurses more. The UK does not have this ability because their universal healthcare system pays nurses the same.
This divergence in pay and quality can be seen in various aspects of healthcare. For example, ambulances in the US have an average fee of USD 1200, whereas in the UK, they are entirely free in an emergency. The US sees frequent fatalities because people want to avoid the cost of calling for help. However, this price discrepancy does not account for the significant disparity in the quality of care. In the US, the average ambulance comes in around 8 minutes. This is minimal compared to the record-low average in the UK of 60 minutes in 2022.
These strikes are historical, as the COVID-19 pandemic shook global health and gave the world a new appreciation for healthcare. The different systems in the US and UK may foster different circumstances for these strikes, but internationally, it is undeniable that without nurses, the physical and emotional health of patients would be disastrous.