Nurse strikes: RCN leader warns of more strikes if government doesn’t negotiate
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “As time moves on – unfortunately if this government doesn’t speak to us and doesn’t get into a room – I’m afraid that this will escalate.”
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Nurses went on strike across the UK yesterday, for the first time in NHS history, demanding a pay rise above inflation. NHS Providers said the walkout had a “significant impact” on patients as tens of thousands of appointments were cancelled or postponed. Nurses are planning a second strike on Tuesday, 20 November.
And the Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen has said that unless ministers negotiate, more strike dates will be called. She told the BBC Question Time last night: “As time moves on – unfortunately if this government doesn’t speak to us and doesn’t get into a room – I’m afraid that this will escalate.”
The union is demanding a pay rise of 5% above the RPI rate of inflation, which was 14.2% in October, but Cullen has hinted that she could compromise if the government negotiates on pay. However the government says this is unaffordable and is sticking with a £1,400 pay rise - which is on average 4.3% - which was set by the NHS pay review body in February.
Downing Street yesterday said it had “no plans” to look again at the pay deal, despite some senior Tories calling for a rethink. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Certainly no plans to tell the independent body what to do.” While Barclay said: “We’ve been clear that we have an independent process and that is the process we followed.”
Cullen previously said: “Ministers have declined my offer of formal pay negotiations and instead chosen strike action. It has left us with no choice but to announce where our members will be going on strike in December.
“Nursing is standing up for the profession and their patients. We’ve had enough of being taken for granted and being unable to provide the care patients deserve. Ministers still have the power and the means to stop this by opening negotiations that address our dispute.”
Nurses said that “dangerous” working conditions and “burnout” has driven them to the picket lines. Picket line supervisor Alison, who declined to give her surname, said: “There’s one reason I am striking and that is patient safety which has been compromised by the sheer reduction in the number of nurses. People are burning or burnt out and the knock-on effect is just untenable.
“We have had years of below-inflation pay increases and some people are struggling to make ends meet. It’s a sad day when people cannot afford to come to work. If people find it more attractive and less stressful to work elsewhere, we are not going to bring in the nurses we need, or keep the ones we have got.”
Elsewhere in Liverpool, staff nurse Joanne McArthur, 51, on the picket line outside Aintree University Hospital, said: “We’ve got nurses that are leaving because of unsafe practices on the ward, not being able to give the patients the patient care that they deserve.
“We come into this profession for that, so that we can give what we’ve been trained to do, and unfortunately we’re just not able to do that because of the way the situation is.
She added: “You’ll go on duty and there’ll be supposedly four staff nurses on and you’ll end up with two. That’s to look after 28 patients which is really, really dangerous.”
However a patient who has had an appointment cancelled due to nurse strikes told NationalWorld he was “pretty angry” at the situation. David Webb, 55, from the south-west of England received an initial diagnosis of a heart defect about eight weeks ago, after suddenly becoming very ill. After several visits to A&E over a period of a week he was informed about his medical condition.
Mr Webb has already received some tests and scans, but is due to undergo more in order for doctors to find out more details about his condition. Another appointment was booked for 20 December, but this has been cancelled due to nurses being on strike.
His appointment hasn’t been rescheduled yet, but he said “it is quite urgent because the consultant needs to assess what needs to be done next”. He said he feels “pretty angry” about his appointment being cancelled and argued that nurses “pay, overtime rates, shift allowances, holiday entitlement and gold-plated pension are all very generous”.
“The unions are obviously using peoples’ health and lives as a bargaining chip to try to extract a ridiculous pay rise at a time when the country has no money. It is completely unprofessional in my view,” Mr Webb added.