A four-hour strike by NHS staff including nurses, midwives and ambulance staff is now under way.
Six trade unions are involved, including Unison, Unite and GMB, in a dispute over a one per cent pay rise for all staff.
The walkout, which runs until 11am today, will be followed by four days of work to rule from tomorrow and is the first time NHS staff have gone on strike over pay in more than 30 years.
Ministers in England have awarded NHS staff a one per cent increase, but only for those without automatic progression-in-the-job rises. These, designed to reward professional development, are given to about half of staff, and are worth three per cent a year on average. An independent pay review board had said the one per cent increase should be across the board.
Union bosses have said that ‘life and limb’ cover will be provided, meaning 999 calls should be answered, but routine appointments could be disrupted. Doctors and dentists are not involved in the action.