As many as 100,000 nursing staff to walk out next month after ministers decline pay talks
Up to 100,000 nursing staff will take part in their biggest ever strike next month in a long-running dispute over pay, it has been announced.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will take industrial action on December 15 and 20 after voting in favour in a ballot.
Nurses and other nursing staff will take action at half of the locations in England where the legal mandate was reached for strikes, every NHS employer except one in Wales and throughout Northern Ireland.
A separate pay offer has been made in Scotland.
The number of NHS employers affected by action will increase in January unless negotiations are held, said the RCN.
The union has repeated calls on the UK government to accept its request for negotiations to resolve the dispute over pay and patient safety.
RCN general secretary Pat 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.”
The RCN said that despite this year’s pay award of £1,400, experienced nurses are worse off by 20% in real terms due to successive below-inflation awards since 2010.
The RCN is calling for a pay rise of 5% above RPI inflation, saying the economic argument for paying nursing staff fairly is clear when billions of pounds is being spent on agency staff to plug workforce gaps.
The RCN pointed out that in the last year, 25,000 nursing staff around the UK left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register, which explains why there are 47,000 unfilled registered nurse posts in the NHS in England.
Other unions representing health workers including ambulance crews, midwives and hospital cleaners, are also balloting their members on strikes.
Interim chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: “Nobody wants to see strikes when the NHS is about to experience what may be its hardest ever winter but we understand how strongly nurses feel and why it has come to this.
“We urge the Government to act fast and talk to nurses and union leaders to find a way to avert strikes.
“Trusts up and down the country have been planning for industrial action. Not all of them will be affected directly but those that are will do everything in their power to minimise disruption for patients.
“Trust leaders’ priorities are ensuring the safe delivery of care and supporting the wellbeing of staff who continue to work flat out in the face of below-inflation pay awards, severe staff shortages and ever-increasing workloads.”
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.”
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