Up to 100,000 nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will strike for two days before Christmas in their first walkout in NHS history.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has confirmed there will be strikes on 15 and 20 December at 76 NHS hospitals and trusts as the pay dispute raging across the health service continues to escalate.
Talks to avert the nursing strike failed after the union leader behind the action accused Health Secretary Steve Barclay of “belligerence” and refusing to discuss pay. Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen said in a statement: “The Government was true to its word – they would not talk to me about pay. I needed to come out of this meeting with something serious to show nurses why they should not strike this week. Regrettably, they are not getting an extra penny.”
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. Barclay has been sticking with the independent pay review body’s recommendation of a £1,400 rise.
During the strikes, nurses will still provide a “bank holiday service”, which includes emergency care, but routine services will be disrupted and the already-record backlog in non-urgent hospital treatment will increase. Sources suggested the walkout will last for 12 hours on both days - likely between 8am and 8pm.
Cullen 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.”
It comes after nursing staff at the majority of NHS employers across the UK voted to take strike action over pay and patient safety earlier this month. The RCN said that despite the pay rise of £1,400 awarded over the summer, experienced nurses are worse off by 20% in real terms due to successive below-inflation awards since 2010. Nurses are therefore calling for a pay rise of 5% above RPI inflation.
The government has said in response that the 19% pay rise that this equates to is unaffordable amidst the cost of living crisis. But the RCN argues there is clear economic reasoning for increasing pay given that billions of pounds are being spent on agency staff to fill workforce shortages.
Other arguments for striking include the fact that 25,000 nurses left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register in the last year, contributing to severe gaps in the workforce and low morale. The RCN warned that there are 47,000 unfilled registered nurse positions in England’s NHS alone.
More health strikes on the horizon
Midwives are also currently voting on strikes, and a ballot of junior doctors opens in the new year. In Scotland, announcements of nurse industrial action were paused after the government there reopened NHS pay negotiations. Members of Unite and Unison have now voted to accept an improved pay offer, ending the risk of strike action. It will see most NHS staff in Scotland get a rise of just over £2,200 a year.
However, ballots of GMB, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members in Scotland are ongoing.
The RCN has added that the number of NHS employers affected by nurse industrial action in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which currently stands at 76, will increase in January unless negotiations are held. But it maintains that surveys have shown huge public support for nurses receiving a bigger pay rise, as well as for their right to take industrial action.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “I am hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of nurses and deeply regret some union members will be taking industrial action. These are challenging times for everyone and the economic circumstances mean the RCN’s demands, which on current figures are a 19.2% pay rise, costing £10 billion a year, are not affordable.
“We have prioritised the NHS with an extra £6.6 billion, on top of previous record funding, and accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body to give nurses a fair pay rise of at least £1,400 this year. This means a newly qualified nurse will typically earn over £31,000 a year – with more senior nurses earning much more than that – they will also receive a pension contribution worth 20% of their salary.
“Our priority is keeping patients safe. The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.”
Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, said: “Why on Earth is the Health Secretary refusing to negotiate with nurses? Patients already can’t get treated on time, strike action is the last thing they need, yet the government is letting this happen. Patients will never forgive the Conservatives for this negligence.
“There were no strikes in the NHS during the 13 years of the last Labour government and the cavalry is coming with the next Labour government. We will abolish non-doms to launch the biggest expansion of medical training in history, giving the NHS the staff it needs so that nurses aren’t overworked and patients are seen on time.”
Where will nurses be striking?
- East Midlands Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- East Midlands NHS Nottingham and Nottinghamshire ICB
- East Midlands Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
- East Midlands Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust
- East Midlands Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
- Eastern Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Eastern Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
- Eastern Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust
- Eastern Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust
- Eastern NHS Hertfordshire and West Essex ICB
- Eastern Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- London Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust
- London Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust
- London Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
- London NHS North Central London ICB
- London Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust
- North West Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust
- North West Health Education England
- North West Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Found Trust
- North West Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- North West Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust
- North West Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust
- North West The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Found Trust
- North West The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust
- Northern Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust
- Northern Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
- Northern The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- South East Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
- South East Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- South East Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust
- South West Devon Partnership NHS Trust
- South West Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust
- South West Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- South West Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- South West NHS Bath, North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire ICB (BSW Together)
- South West NHS Devon ICB (One Devon)
- South West NHS Gloucestershire ICB (One Gloucestershire)
- South West North Bristol NHS Trust
- South West Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
- South West Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust
- South West Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust
- South West University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust
- South West University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust
- West Midlands Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust
- West Midlands Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust
- West Midlands NHS Birmingham and Solihull ICB (BSol ICB)
- West Midlands The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- West Midlands University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
- West Midlands Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust
- Yorkshire & Humber Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Yorkshire & Humber Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust
- Yorkshire & Humber NHS England
- Yorkshire & Humber The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
- Wales Cardiff and Vale University Health Board
- Wales Powys Teaching Local Health Board
- Wales Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust Headquarters
- Wales Hywel Dda University Health Board
- Wales Swansea Bay University Health Board
- Wales Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board
- Wales Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board
- Wales Velindre NHS Trust
- Wales Public Health Wales
- Wales Health Education and Improvement Wales Health Authority
- Wales NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership
- Wales Digital Health and Care Wales
- Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Practice and Education Council
- Northern Ireland Southern Health and Social Care Trust
- Northern Ireland Western Health and Social Care Trust
- Northern Ireland Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
- Northern Ireland Business Services Organisation
- Northern Ireland Regulation & Quality Improvement Authority
- Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service
- Northern Ireland Public Health Agency
- Northern Ireland Northern Health and Social Care Trust
- Northern Ireland South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust
- Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Ambulance Service