LONDON -- British nurses ended their first strike in history Friday but warned that more could follow against the country's embattled National Health Service.
Support for the 37 nurses who walked off the job Thursday night at North Manchester General Hospital indicated hundreds of others in England and Scotland 'may follow suit, if necessary,' said David Saunders, of the National Union of Public Employees.
The strike at North Manchester General Hospital lasted less than 24 hours, but it was the latest indication of growing troubles in Britain's 40-year-old 'cradle-to-grave' health service, which faces problems of sharply rising costs, cutbacks in wards and beds and lengthening waiting lists.
The Manchester walkout, the first by nurses in Britain, was called to protest proposed government cuts in pay for working unsocial hours - a move NUPE said could cost senior nurses as much as $3,600 annually.
Britain's tax-supported National Health Service, which provides free medical service for all residents of the country, is facing pressure from an increasing shortage of nurses, many of whom have gone to the United States where they say they can earn twice as much.
The Manchester strike appeared to have little immediate effect on hospital operations. 'There were no problems; no patients had any complaints,' said hospital spokesman Ian Fowler. Additional nurses were called in to compensate for the reduced staff, she said.
Nurse Helen Powell said calling the strike was 'very hard, very difficult, and we were unsure of a lot of things. Now that we've done it once, next time, unfortunately, it's going to be a lot more easier.'
Roger Poole, of NUPE, echoed Saunders' prediction that similar 'industrial action' by nurses would follow, and he said his union 'would back any numbers of them who wanted to protest.'
Another NUPE official predicted, 'There will be protests by nurses up and down the country if the government does not withdraw (this) threat to stop special payments.'
Anthony Newton, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's health minister, called the Manchester strike 'very unfortunate' and said it was based on a 'misunderstanding. There is absolutely no question of reducing pay' for nurses.
Newton said the government intends to add $1.26 billion for fiscal 1988 to the National Health Service's $38.7 billion budget.
But Neil Kinnock, leader of the opposition Labor Party, said a minimum of $2.34 billion more is needed for nurses salaries, health service developments and hospital waiting lists that now extend into the thousands.
Last month, the Thatcher government appropriated $180 million in emergency funding to slow down hospital ward closures ordered by regional health authorities trying to balance their budgets.