More than 300,000 members voted in the nursing union’s biggest ever strike ballot, with the results released this afternoon. The RCN said industrial action will take place in the NHS trusts or health boards that have met the legal requirements. Many of the biggest hospitals in England will see strike action by RCN members but others narrowly missed the legal turnout thresholds to qualify for action.
Thousands of NHS operations and appointments are likely to be cancelled, as the health service treat emergency patients in a “life-preserving care model”.
What are the nurse strike dates?
The RCN has not yet released the strike dates, however they are expected to begin before the end of this year and the mandate to organise strikes runs until early May 2023, six months after members finished voting.
Which NHS trusts are affected?
Only NHS trusts or health boards where voting passed the legal threshold for industrial action will be affected by strikes. However this is the majority of NHS employers across the UK.
All NHS employers in Northern Ireland and Scotland will be included and all bar one in Wales met the relevant legal thresholds.
Guys and St Thomas’ in London, opposite the House of Commons, appears in the list as well as other leading hospitals in capital cities of the UK – the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, University Hospital Wales in Cardiff and Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
Why are nurses striking?
The union is calling for a pay rise of 5% above the RPI inflation rate, which currently stands at above 12%. In England and Wales, NHS staff - including nurses - have been given an average of 4.75% more, with the lowest paid guaranteed a rise of at least £1,400.
In Scotland, 5% was initially offered to NHS staff, but that has been changed to a flat rate of just over £2,200, which works out at just over 8% for a newly qualified nurse. In Northern Ireland, nurses are yet to receive a pay award because there is no working government.
During the ballot, the RCN had argued this year’s below-inflation pay award came after years of squeezes on nurses’ salaries, which the union says is compromising care as the NHS is struggling to attract and retain nursing staff.
A spokesperson for the RCN said: “Cutting nurses’ wages by 20% since 2010 is the opposite of providing ‘considerable support’ for nurses and the Cabinet Office Minister shouldn’t insult our members by pretending it is. The minister appears in denial about both the anger of nursing staff and the public support we have.”
Health workers in other unions, including ambulance staff, hospital porters and cleaners, are also voting on industrial action over pay.
Will patients be affected?
Thousands of NHS operations and appointments are likely to be cancelled when nurses go on strike across the UK. The health service will turn its attention to treating emergency patients in a “life-preserving care model”.
TheRCN has already said it is committed to ensuring emergency and urgent care can be kept running during a strike. Its care model for strikes says emergency care will be provided to preserve life or to prevent permanent disability.
Some of the most serious cancer cases could be treated, while urgent diagnostic procedures and assessments will be staffed if they are needed to gather data on potentially life-threatening conditions or those that could lead to permanent disability.
In the lead up to results of the ballot, the government said it has contingency plans for dealing with any industrial action by nurses amid the growing threat of widespread strikes in the NHS. Earlier, Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden said that in the event of industrial action, the NHS would prioritise the most essential services, although he acknowledged that it would have an impact on other activity.
Speaking on Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, he said: “We have well-oiled contingencies in place and the Department of Health is across how we would deal with a scenario like this should it arise.
“We will make sure we prioritise the most essential services – emergency services and so on. But of course there would be an impact as a result of a strike like that. I would continue to urge nurses and others to resist going out on strike even if they have voted to do so. We have already agreed quite considerable support for nurses.
“Of course, if you are in the situation where you have a large number of nurses going out on strike, of course that is going to have an impact for example on some elective surgery and other activities.”
What has the government said?
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the vote by nurses to strike was “disappointing”.
He tweeted: “It is disappointing some RCN members voted for industrial action. We accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body in full and have given over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year on top of a 3% rise last year.
“I’m hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of NHS staff, including nurses. That’s why supporting the NHS and social care workforce to care for patients is one of my priorities, and we have already recruited 30,000 of the 50,000 more nurses we promised by 2024.
“But union demands for a 17.6% pay settlement are around three times what millions of people outside the public sector will typically receive and simply aren’t reasonable or affordable. Labour have also refused to back this. Regrettably, this action will mean some patients will have their treatment delayed. My priority is to keep patients safe during any strikes, minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.”
What has Labour said?
Wes Streeting, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: “There were no strikes in the NHS during 13 years when Labour was last in government. If we were in office today, we would be talking with the RCN and doing everything we can to prevent these strikes going ahead.
“Government ministers spent the summer dodging calls and requests for meetings from the Royal College of Nursing. It is unacceptable negligence. The Conservatives have stopped governing and it is nurses and patients who will be made to pay the price.”