The NHS is to experience its first national strike for 18 years as staff employed by its supplies organisation prepare to stage a day of industrial action in protest at government plans to privatise the service.
Workers employed by NHS Logistics, which delivers medical and food supplies to hospitals and doctors' surgeries, will stage a 24-hour-walk-out over proposals to outsource the organisation's work to German parcel company DHL.
The strike, organised by public service union Unison, will begin at 22:00 BST this evening and will be followed by a second strike on September 26th, timed to coincide with a debate scheduled to take place on the NHS at next week's Labour party conference in Manchester.
Unison said that of the 900 NHS Logistics staff it balloted over the strike action earlier this month, 74 per cent of its members voted in favour of the walkout, based on a turnout of 66 per cent.
NHS Logistics staff based at distribution centres in Alfreton in Derbyshire, Runcorn in Cheshire, Normanton in West Yorkshire, Maidstone in Kent and Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk will take part in the strike over plans to transfer a total of about 1,650 workers to DHL on October 1st.
Speaking earlier this week, Unison's head of health, Karen Jennings, said that there was "simply no logical explanation" for the government's decision to outsource jobs at NHS Logistics to DHL.
Commenting on the situation facing workers, she said: "They have worked hard to build NHS Logistics into an award-winning service and don't deserve to be treated in this way."
But the government claims that the NHS will save £1 billion as part of a ten-year-contract with DHL, which will also see the range of products supplied to hospitals and GP surgeries expanded.
Unison has warned that the strike is likely to have an immediate impact on hospital supplies, although the union has agreed emergency plans to cover the provision of life-saving equipment during the industrial action.
Downplaying the potential impact of the strike, the Department of Health has said that it has detailed contingency plans in place to ensure "minimum disruption" to NHS services.