Thousands of physiotherapists will go on strike today for the first time over pay in worsening disputes across the NHS.
Members of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) in 30 trusts across England will walk out in an escalation of industrial action by health workers in the long-running pay row with the Government.
The action will be followed by a second strike in England on February 9, while CSP members in Wales will stop work on February 7.
The CSP said it has been calling for meaningful discussions over an improved deal since the summer, with the pay award given by the Government being less than half the rate of inflation and the NHS experiencing a "disastrous workforce crisis" which it warned is badly damaging the ability of staff to deliver high-quality care.
Government Strategy 'Inexplicable'
The society said that despite Government claims to be open to dialogue, no new offer has been tabled and physiotherapy staff will "reluctantly" take action.
Claire Sullivan, director of employment relations at the CSP, said: "The Government's strategy during this dispute has been simply inexplicable and is entirely to blame for these strikes.
"It is gratifying that the public recognises where the fault lies and strongly supports the actions our members are taking, but it is galling that they have been forced to do something none of them would ever want to do.
"The Government must come to the table with something tangible that we can put to our members to prevent more strikes following if there is no progress.
"We are determined to secure a pay deal that helps our members cope with the cost-of-living crisis and helps the NHS recruit and retain staff to deliver the services that patients desperately need."
She told the PA news agency that the CSP has been pressing the Government to hold talks about pay since last summer but had only been asked to a single meeting, with other health unions, which lasted less than an hour.
"We have never dealt with this level of lack of engagement. It is extremely frustrating.
A CSP spokesman said: "Strike action is a last resort and this is the first time in our history that we have taken action over pay.
"Physiotherapy staff are working under extraordinary pressure due to workforce shortages and huge waiting lists and a pay offer that is half the rate of inflation is nowhere near enough.
"Failing to pay staff fairly will increase these pressures if people leave, causing greater stress for those who remain and longer waits for patients.
"The Government must come back with a better deal to ensure we retain the staff we desperately need."
The strike will last for 24 hours from midnight, although "life and limb" services will continue, such as emergency and intensive care.
Nurses, ambulance staff and other NHS workers have taken strike action in recent months, with more walkouts planned in the coming weeks.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said: "It is regrettable some union members are taking industrial action.
"I will continue meeting with unions, including the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, to discuss what is fair and affordable for the 2023/24 pay process."
This article contains information from PA Media.