NHS strikes: nurses prepare to walk off the job this weekend after RCN rejected government pay offer

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Nursing unions have announced the results of a vote on the government’s pay offer, with Unison choosing to accept it while the RCN will stage fresh strikes

Thousands of NHS nurses will walk off the job on Sunday, after the UK's main nursing union voted to reject a government pay offer earlier this month.

Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), GMB, Unite, and Unison - which also represent a range of other healthcare workers - have all voted on the proposed deal, which includes a 5% pay rise this year and a cash payment for last year. Voting ended on Friday (14 April).

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

GMB and Unison members both voted to accept the deal, but the RCN announced that its members will walk out for 48 hours from 8pm on 30 April - the first May bank holiday weekend - without any derogations. The move followed a 54% vote to reject the offer, with 61% of RCN members employed on NHS Agenda for Change contracts in England casting a vote. Unite has also since rejected the deal.

However, the strike has been cut short, after Health Secretary Steve Barclay "regretfully" brought the case before the High Court. The last day of the strike - 2 May - was deemed "unlawful" by Justice Linden concluded that a six-month period in which industrial action can be taken following the RCN balloting members last year expired at midnight on Monday (1 May).

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “The RCN could and should have resolved this significant issue of the legality of its strike sooner. More than a week ago now NHS Employers approached the RCN to query whether its mandate for strike action expired at midnight on 1 May 2023, and not the 2 May they had appeared to suggest.

Nursing unions will announce the result of a vote on the government’s pay offer today (Photo: Getty Images)Nursing unions will announce the result of a vote on the government’s pay offer today (Photo: Getty Images)
Nursing unions will announce the result of a vote on the government’s pay offer today (Photo: Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

“The RCN vigorously rejected our assertion and we were left with no choice but to ask the Secretary of State to seek the view of the courts. Clarity has now been achieved, not least for RCN members, and the judge has confirmed the position we set out last week: any strike action occurring on 2 May would be illegal.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said they had been seeking urgent re-opening of talks with the government, rather than a court case.

The RCN previously said the new strike will also involve nursing staff working in emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other services that were previously exempt.

A letter to Barclay announcing the fresh strikes read: “What has been offered to date is simply not enough. The Government needs to increase what has already been offered and we will be highly critical of any move to reduce it. Since our talks in February, we have seen the pressures on the NHS continue to increase.

“The crisis in our health and care services cannot be addressed without significant action that addresses urgent recruitment and retention issues and nursing pay to bring this dispute to a close urgently. Until there is a significantly improved offer, we are forced back to the picket line.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Meetings alone are not sufficient to prevent strike action and I will require an improved offer as soon as possible. In February, you opened negotiations directly with me and I urge you to do the same now.

“After a historic vote to strike, our members expect a historic pay award.”

Royal College of Nurses members have voted for a 48-hour walkout (Photo: George Sweeney/Derry Journal)Royal College of Nurses members have voted for a 48-hour walkout (Photo: George Sweeney/Derry Journal)
Royal College of Nurses members have voted for a 48-hour walkout (Photo: George Sweeney/Derry Journal) | Derry Journal

Trust leaders understood the frustration of nurses, junior doctors and other staff who have seen their pay fall behind inflation year after year, he said. "It’s really important that the unions and government find a way through this to prevent more strikes and let the NHS focus on its big challenges, including cutting waiting lists and transforming services, instead of having to resort to ‘all hands on deck’ just to get through the day."

A Government spokesperson said: “It is hugely disappointing that the Royal College of Nursing membership has rejected the pay deal recommended by their leadership.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Following constructive discussions, all parties agreed this was a fair and generous offer which is demonstrated by Unison, representing the largest share of the NHS workforce, choosing to accept it," they continued. “The fact that the Royal College of Nursing has announced an escalation in strike action with no derogations, based on a vote from the minority of the nursing workforce, will be hugely concerning for patients."

The announcement came after junior doctors finished up four consecutive days of strikes in England, with around 47,000 workers walking out in the increasingly dispute over pay. NHS Providers communications director Adam Brimelow said the RCN vote was a setback, and "extremely worrying".

"It is positive, though, that a large proportion of Unison’s members voted to accept the pay deal," he said. Brimelow continued: "Safe and effective patient care, the top priority for NHS trust leaders and staff, is harder to guarantee amid escalating strikes. [The] four-day walkout by junior doctors has seen hundreds of thousands of appointments and procedures postponed and staff cover spread too thinly despite trusts’ best efforts to manage the risk."

Hospital bosses had expressed concern over patient safety as they struggle to secure cover for overnight junior doctor shifts during strikes. The health service’s top doctor Professor Sir Stephen Powis warned that the situation in the NHS will “become more challenging each day this strike progresses”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

During the strikes, staff who are still working had to prioritise emergency and urgent care over some routine appointments and procedures, to ensure safe care for those in life-threatening situations. It meant hundreds of thousands of appointments and operations had to be rescheduled.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.