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Supporting colleagues on strike

PDA member and hospital pharmacist, Liam Volk discusses the importance of and need for industrial action in the NHS and how to support striking workers.

Sat 2nd September 2023 The PDA

I’ve been a pharmacist since 2016 and a hospital pharmacist working in the South West since 2019. In this time, I’ve had the pleasure to work with some wonderful doctors, nurses and AHPs, and even married a doctor myself (such is my commitment to MDT working!)

Over this time, sadly, I’ve also noticed that despite all our efforts and hard work, the health service is failing patients in many ways. A chronically overworked and understaffed workforce can only do so much. We are all human beings and the years of this environment day in, day out, coupled with pay stagnation, have broken those left in the NHS.

I’m proud that pharmacy professionals have been using their expertise to help keep primary and secondary care afloat during this time.

But no amount of expertise or goodwill for the NHS can make up for the fact that it is struggling.

The statistics are borderline dystopian:

It is because of this that many of my fellow healthcare professionals decided that enough was enough.

Nurses (RCN) and junior doctors (BMA and HCSA), as well as several other healthcare professionals from several unions (Unite, Unison, GMB Union, BDA and CSP to name a few) including some PDA members, were balloted and some union members voted for industrial action.

Their demands are simple. Pay stagnation must end. Healthcare workers’ real term earnings have dropped by anywhere from 10-25% in the last 15 years and a weekly clap for us doesn’t put food on our tables.

The discourse around the strikes has often been mired with disinformation and individuals acting in bad faith for personal gain. So, it’s understandable that a lot of people may not understand why it is that workers are striking.

But, as summed up by my husband (an ED ST5 doctor), “Without fair pay, we’re losing a lot of healthcare professionals, which in turn becomes a patient safety issue. Unless we do something about it now, the issues of the NHS will continue to get worse, and the general population will be the ones who suffer.”

Without fair pay, staff numbers in the NHS will continue to plummet, and patients will continue to languish on waiting lists or on trolleys in hospital corridors or alone on the floor waiting hours for an ambulance. Patients deserve better and experts all agree that the staff shortage and chronic underfunding of the health service are possibly the biggest contributors to the current NHS crisis.

And there’s no sign of this ending yet. With the junior doctor, consultant and dentist strikes likely around the corner, it’s important to think about what we can do as pharmacists to support our friends and colleagues striking.

Supporting the strikes

On this occasion, pharmacists accepted the pay deal and aren’t striking. However, the healthcare system and patients are important, and I believe this is still our fight too. These are our friends and colleagues and they’re doing this for our patients.

These would be my suggestions for what we can do to help:

  1. Respectfully challenge anti-striking sentiment if you feel comfortable in doing so.
  2. Spend some time on the picket line with your colleagues and friends. I always find bringing them some chocolates for moral support is very popular!
  3. Do not do any extra duties or tasks outside of your job description or professional competency. It could be argued that this is akin to strike-breaking, but also can be very dangerous for patients as well as professional registration.
  4. Accessorise your work clothes with official stickers or pin badges that show your support for colleagues.
  5. I’m aware this point is preaching to the choir if you’re reading this but be sure to join the PDA and get involved – be sure to vote when asked to do so, and consider putting yourself forward for a position such as a PDA Workplace Representative if you can.


By Liam Volk, hospital pharmacist and President of the PDA LGBT+ Network

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