NHS Nurses Will Hold First UK-Wide Strikes Over Pay
NHS nurses have voted overwhelmingly for strike action over below-inflation pay rises and stretched working conditions (Alamy)
Members of the Royal College of Nursing have voted in favour of the biggest-ever NHS strike action by the end of the year, with the union arguing for better pay and working conditions.
In a ballot of more than 300,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing, nurses have voted for strike action to challenge NHS wage stagnation during the cost-of-living crisis. Strikes are expected to take place before the end of the year.
Every NHS trust in Northern Ireland and Scotland will hold strikes as well as the majority of trusts in Wales and around half in England. Emergency services will remain staffed.
RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “Anger has become action – our members are saying enough is enough. The voice of nursing in the UK is strong and I will make sure it is heard.
"Our members will no longer tolerate a financial knife-edge at home and a raw deal at work. Ministers must look in the mirror and ask how long they will put nursing staff through this."
She said next week’s Budget is the UK government’s opportunity to signal a "new direction" with serious investment in the NHS.
The RCN says the NHS wage increase offer has fallen well short of the rate of inflation, which is currently running at over 10 per cent.
Significant disruption is expected across NHS services and Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said the most essential services will be prioritised while planned appointments are likely to be severely impacted.
The government is planning an annual pay increase of four per cent for nurses from about £35,600 to around £37,000 from March 2022, but the RCN are campaigning for a pay award of five per cent plus inflation – around 15 per cent in total.
Union officials say the pay of some nurses has fallen by 20 per cent in real terms since the Conservatives entered government in 2010.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said he "deeply regrets" the decision of some union members to take industrial action.
“These are challenging times, which is why we accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body in full and have given over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year," he said.
Barclay added: “Our priority is keeping patients safe during any strikes. The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.”
There have been many reports of nurses having to use food banks, but these were dismissed by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan who said this only happens in an “emergency situation” such as a “relationship or boiler” breaking down.
Keegan said the government must “get the balance” between increasing wages for 1.3 million NHS workers and increasing the burden on the taxpayer.
“You can never say nurses get paid enough, they’re so valuable,” she said, but insisted that the average nurse’s pay “is more than the average salary across the country”.
Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said nurses and patients will "pay the price" for the "unacceptable negligence" of the Conservative government.
“There were no strikes in the NHS during 13 years when Labour was last in government," Streeting said.
“Government ministers spent the summer dodging calls and requests for meetings from the Royal College of Nursing.
"If we were in office today, we would be talking with the RCN and doing everything we can to prevent these strikes going ahead."
Several other healthcare unions, including ambulance staff, hospital porters and cleaners, are also planning votes on industrial action.
This could add increasing pressure to an already stretched NHS, with record figures showing seven million patients in England were waiting for hospital treatment at the end of August.
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