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Union Boss Says Nurse Strikes Could Go "Right Up Until Christmas"

Pat Cullen

3 min read

General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Pat Cullen has said nursing strikes could last until Christmas after members rejected a pay deal from the government.

The government's offer included a one-off payment worth between £1,655 and £3,789 for Agenda for Change staff in England and a 5 per cent consolidated pay increase for 2023/24; UNISON accepted the government's pay offer. 

The RCN has now said there will be a 48-hour walk out from 8pm on 30 April to 8pm on 2 May without department exemptions - with A&E and cancer wards at risk. 

"Our nurses will absolutely not [halt] strikes – with strike action for the end of this month, beginning of May," Cullen told the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. 

"And then we will move immediately to ballot our members – and if that ballot is successful it will mean further strike action right up until Christmas.

"Now, the person that can stop that – the people that can stop that – is Steve Barclay and the ministers, and indeed the Prime Minister, and I would urge them again today to add to the money that they've put on the table. Respect nursing, respect the health service."

Her remarks came after health secretary Steve Barclay on Sunday morning said industrial action puts lives at risk.

"Delivering for patients is my top priority," said Barclay. 

"This pay deal is a fair and reasonable offer, which will mean the NHS can focus on providing the best possible care for patients.

"I hope unions who are still voting will accept this deal."

Elsewhere, Cullen said planned nursing walkouts in critical care like A&E and cancer care were taking place "because this government has not listened".

"What I want to say to every patient that's listening this morning: the health service is in a crisis – a crisis caused by this government, not our nurses. 

"This government can't say on one hand 'we valued nurses so much that they shouldn't go on strike' and then 'we don't value value them enough to pay them'", said Cullen.

Cullen added: "When we were on strike at any time we've had six days so far, nurses made sure at all times that patient safety was at the core of all decision making – we will continue to do that.

"And should there be a major incident, or a particular incident, that nurses and will have to deal with during the strike they will return immediately."

The RCN boss also did not rule out a coordinated strike with junior doctors in the future; junior doctors took four days of strike action this week demanding a "pay restoration" of 35% arguing real wages have fallen by 26% since 2008. 

Greg Hands, cabinet minister and Tory party chairman, told the BBC he believed the pay offer for nurses was "fair" and "great". 

"We think it's unreasonable to take the strike action, particularly at a time when the other unions are balloting, particularly at a time when UNISON – which represents a third of all the staff – accepted it by 74%," said Hands. 

"That's a big majority in favour of this very fair and reasonable offer."

Also appearing on the BBC, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he was "really worried" about the RCN's decision to remove exemptions around emergency and cancer care and urged the government to intervene. 

"I really hope they don't [strike]," Streeting told Kuenssberg. 

"I must say I think the dereliction of leadership from the government this week has been appalling - we've barely seen or heard anything of the health secretary.

"The Prime Minister told parliament he didn't want to get in the middle of this.

"Well – you're the Prime Minister in the middle of the biggest crisis in the history of the NHS."

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