Nurses strikes: RCN union threatens post-Christmas walkouts unless pay deal made by Friday

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The Royal College of Nursing has warned a “clock is running” for the Prime Minister

Nurses will announce post-Christmas strikes by the end of this week unless the government agrees a deal on pay, a union chief has warned.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen said a “clock is running” for the Prime Minister to enter negotiations following a strike day on Tuesday (20 December).

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The 12-hour walkout was the second strike day in less than a week and saw around 10,000 NHS nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland stay absent from work, with many taking to picket lines in protest over pay, staffing levels and patient safety.

The RCN is calling for nurses to be awarded a pay rise of 5% above inflation, but ministers say the salary increase is unaffordable. When the union submitted the 5% figure to the independent pay review body in March, inflation was running at 7.5%, but it hassince increased even further, with the current rate over 10%.

The government has implemented the recommendations of the independent pay review body, which gave nurses a rise of about 4.75%, with a guaranteed minimum of £1,400.

The RCN has warned a “clock is running” for the Prime Minister to agree a pay deal (Photo: PA)The RCN has warned a “clock is running” for the Prime Minister to agree a pay deal (Photo: PA)
The RCN has warned a “clock is running” for the Prime Minister to agree a pay deal (Photo: PA) | PA

Ms Cullen said: “Today, the Prime Minister looked out of step with the country he leads. But he could still make this the last nurse strike of his premiership. With the end of today’s strike, a clock is running for the Prime Minister. There are two days for us to meet and begin to turn this around by Christmas. By Friday, we will be announcing the dates and hospitals for a strike next month.

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“Westminster may be shutting for Christmas tonight but nursing staff are readying for their shifts over the next two weeks and looking at the new year with trepidation. We are not looking for a miracle, just the fair pay and recognition that is in the Prime Minister’s gift.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has declined to discuss pay when meeting union officials but said his door was open to discuss other areas of nursing. Speaking ahead Tuesday’s walkout, he said: “The RCN’s demands are unaffordable during these challenging times and would take money away from frontline services while they are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic. I’m open to engaging with the unions on how to make the NHS a better place to work.”

Ms Cullen said on the picket line at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle on Tuesday that public support for nurses was “immense” and it was up to the Rishi Sunak to end the industrial action, adding: “No nurse wants to do this. And certainly no patient deserves it. But this is completely now on his desk to actually bring a resolution to this.”

Nurses prepared to ‘continue the fight’

Nicky Hughes, associate director of nursing at RCN Wales, claimed health minister Eluned Morgan had refused calls by the union to enter into negotiations about pay. Ms Hughes warned that nurses were prepared to “continue the fight” if no deal was reached, but added that discussions were continuing about what the union’s next steps would be.

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She said: “We’ve seen such an impact over the day with lots of our members out on the picket lines and members of the public have been so generous and supportive throughout. I think we’ve got the public behind us and that’s really important. But we’ve had absolute silence from the Welsh government.

“The health minister last asked us to go to a meeting as a trade union on the 12th and yet again there was nothing on the table in terms of a meaningful pay award. We’ve asked them constantly to come back and open negotiations, even calling on the First Minister Mark Drakeford yesterday to come to the table and avert today’s strike, but there was just silence.

“The Welsh Government says it’s because of the Westminster government, however, in Wales health is a devolved matter and it’s for the Welsh government to manage and fund appropriately the NHS in Wales. Unless they do, we will continue to haemorrhage nurses. As it is, the NHS is on a knife-edge.”

Ms Hughes said further talks with health boards would be needed ahead of any further industrial action after RCN Wales received reports that wards were allegedly being staffed with more nurses than agreed.

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A Welsh government spokesperson said: “We believe all public sector workers should be fairly rewarded for the important work they do. The strikes will inevitably have a significant impact on NHS services.

“But we recognise the strength of feeling among staff, which the difficult decision to vote for industrial action reflects. While we were unable to avert this week’s industrial action, all partners have agreed to keep talking and continue to work together.”

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