NHS nurse strike: public urged to use NHS England ‘wisely’ during 28-hour strike

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen said nurses would respond to emergencies despite the strikes

NHS organisations across the country are braced for significant disruption over today’s 28-hour nurse strike over pay.

The Royal College of Nursing’s industrial action started at 8pm on Sunday and will last until midnight tonight (1 May), after members voted to reject the latest government offer. The union initially said it would not agree to derogations – broad areas of care where staffing is guaranteed despite industrial action – but granted some exemptions on Friday in an apparent U-turn.

Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) is among organisations where nurses have agreed to derogations after it voiced “serious concerns” about patient safety during the walkout. The hospital said it was “incredibly grateful” to RCN members for offering assurances, but took the decision not to stand down a “business continuity incident” it had previously declared until it was confident it could staff its services over the strike.

Health workers across the NHS have gone on strike several times in past months in disputes over pay and conditions. Unions including Unison and the GMB have voted in favour of a Government pay offer to end the strikes, while Unite and the RCN have voted against.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen defended the strike and said cancelled medical appointments were not just the result of industrial action. NHS England is urging the public to use the health service wisely. Cullen confirmed that nurses would help patients in emergencies, even if they are on the picket line.

Cullen has urged Health Secretary Steve Barclay “not to be disrespectful” to nurses amid their “biggest strike yet” over the bank holiday. Barclay described their ongoing industrial action as “premature” and “disrespectful” to the other trade unions who are meeting to discuss the Government’s pay offer on Tuesday.

Under the NHS Staff Council, the unions will consider the offer of a 5% pay increase for 2023/24 along with a one-off payment worth between £1,655 and £3,789 for the current financial year for nurses in England.

She told Sky News: “There’s certainly no disrespect being shown from our nursing staff, I can say that categorically.

“I would ask the Secretary of State not to be disrespectful to those hundreds of thousands of nursing staff that have participated in this ballot and that are losing another day’s pay today, standing out on picket lines – standing up for our health service that’s been totally broken by this Government.

“An NHS in crisis, seven million-plus people on waiting lists – so how are we going to address all of those issues, how are we going to address tens of thousands of vacant posts that we’ve got in England?

“If we don’t, then we will continue with serious risk to patient safety and we will never get the backlog sorted.

“So, it really is incumbent on this Secretary of State to get round this table immediately with myself and the Royal College of Nursing, and put more money (on the table) and let our nursing staff get back and do what they want to do, and that is care for our patients.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, told Sky that strikes have “taken a heavy toll” on services and urged unions to accept the pay deal.

“I think our view now is that given that most staff have voted in favour of this deal, it is time to accept it, for the unions to work together and for us to think more long-term about what we need to do to address that crisis of 120,000 vacancies in the health service,” he said.

“Obviously we’d rather these strikes were not taking place. They come after six months of on-and-off industrial action which has taken a heavy toll on the NHS.”ting to discuss the Government’s pay offer on Tuesday.

‘Enough is enough’

Dozens of angry nurses gathered outside London’s University College Hospital ealier today, chanting and singing, as thousands of their colleagues across England walked out.

Waving placards demanding fair pay and stating “Enough is enough”, they asked “How am I supposed to live?” on their current pay, and said they are unable to provide acceptable care to patients due to staffing issues.

As staff lined the steps of the hospital, cancer care staff nurse Preya Assi, from Hackney, east London, said: “This is a culmination of our pay not reflecting the hours we are working. The last decade has made things considerably worse. Our colleagues are out in force because things have got so bad that we cannot pay our rent or our bills, we are relying on food banks.”

The 36-year-old went on: “We have spent the last few years fighting the pandemic. It matters to us and the care we provide matters to us. The fact the Government are not looking at our pay has caused us to do this.”

2 May strike ruled ‘unlawful’

The Royal College of Nursing’s initial planned strike action for 2 May would be unlawful, a High Court judge has ruled.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay secured the court’s interim declaration after “regretfully” bringing legal action against part of the trade union’s proposed walkout in a long-running dispute over pay. Lawyers representing RCN did not attended a hearing in London on Thursday (27 April) to face the Government’s accusations that strike action beyond the end of 1 May has “no democratic legitimacy”.

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice following the ruling, RCN general secretary Cullen said it was the “darkest day” of the dispute so far.

NHS employers wrote to Barclay asking him to check the legality of the action, because the strike mandate runs out in early May. He said on Monday he was “regretfully” applying to the High Court to declare industrial action planned for May 2 unlawful. But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) appeared to climb down from an earlier threat to seek to block the full 48-hour walkout starting from 30 April.

RCN members to strike for 28-hours. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty ImagesRCN members to strike for 28-hours. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images
RCN members to strike for 28-hours. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Why was strike action ruled ‘unlawful’

In his ruling, Mr Justice Linden concluded that a six-month period in which industrial action can be taken following the RCN balloting members last year expires 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.

“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.”

Government have ‘lost’ nursing

Cullen, reacting to the judge’s ruling, said: “They (the government) have won their legal public today. But what this has led to is they have lost nursing and they’ve lost the public.

“They’ve taken the most trusted profession through the courts, by the least trusted people.

“And what a day for nursing. What a day for patients. And what an indictment on this government to do this to the very people that have held this NHS together, not just through the pandemic, but an NHS that has been run into the ground and in crisis, caused by this government.”

She added: “Where do we go from here? Well, of course, our nursing staff will not do anything that isn’t legal.

“We will continue to have strike action on Sunday evening and again on Monday, but we will not be taking strike action on 2 May. Our nurses have carried out very safe, legal action to date. And Steve Barclay can continue to threaten them with their registration.

“He can continue, if he wishes, to drag them through court proceedings. But what he needs to do is get into a negotiating room and start to talk to the nurses of England, sort out this dispute and allow them to get back to their work.”

Cullen told broadcasters: “(Nurses) will continue to fight for the NHS, fight for patients, particularly those 7.3 million people that are sitting in waiting lists.

“That’s where his concentration should be today, not on this courtroom.

General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen joins nurses outside the High Court in central London. Picture: PAGeneral Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen joins nurses outside the High Court in central London. Picture: PA
General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen joins nurses outside the High Court in central London. Picture: PA

“Every day that we have taken strike action we’ve said we’re sorry. We’re sorry for those 7.2 million people-plus that are sitting on waiting lists.

“We’re sorry that we haven’t been able to fill the tens of thousands of vacant posts by getting this Government into a room and negotiating properly and decently for nursing.

“That’s what our aim is, to address those waiting list to make sure people get a decent NHS in this country and they just continue to crumble under this Government.”