NHS Nurses Will Go On First Ever Strike Over Pay

Health workers in other unions are also voting on industrial action over pay.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing protesting in June 2022.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing protesting in June 2022.
Guy Smallman via Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of nurses will go on strike this winter after union members backed industrial action.

The Royal College of Nursing [RCN] - which represents nearly half a million nurses - has announced the first UK-wide strike in its 106-year history.

Nurses at many hospitals and NHS centres are set to take industrial action before Christmas and may continue striking until next May. It is understood not every hospital will be affected.

“Anger has become action. Our members are saying enough is enough”, said Pat Cullen, the union’s general secretary.

“Our members will no longer tolerate a financial knife-edge at home and a raw deal at work.”

Pat Cullen, the union’s general secretary.
Pat Cullen, the union’s general secretary.
Liam McBurney - PA Images via Getty Images

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.

All NHS employers in Northern Ireland and Scotland will be included and all bar one in Wales met the relevant legal thresholds.

The government has previously said it has contingency plans for dealing with any industrial action by nurses.

Ministers have said that in the event of industrial action, the NHS would prioritise the most essential services. However, the strike is expected to have an impact on other activity.

Health workers in other unions, including ambulance staff, hospital porters and cleaners, are also voting on industrial action over pay.

Why Are Nurses Striking?

The RCN has called for a pay rise of 5 per cent above inflation, which currently stands at above 12 per cent.

However, no UK nation has offered close to that. In England and Wales, NHS staff have been given an average of 4.75 per cent more.

In Scotland, 5 per cent was initially offered but that has been changed to a flat rate that works out at just over 8 per cent for a newly qualified nurse.

In Northern Ireland, nurses have not received a pay award because there is no working government.

However, the RCN argued that this year’s below-inflation pay award came after years of squeezes on nurses’ salaries.

They say the average pay fell by 6 per cent between 2011 and 2021 for nurses - once inflation was taken into account - compared with a 4.6 per cent drop for whole UK workforce.

The government in England has pointed out this year’s pay award is in line with what the independent NHS Pay Review Body recommended.

It also comes after NHS staff got a 3 per cent rise last year in recognition of their work during the pandemic while the rest of the public sector had a pay freeze.

Health secretary Steve Barclay described nurses voting to strike as “disappointing”.

He said he was “hugely grateful” for the hard work and dedication of NHS staff, adding: “But union demands for a 17.6 per cent 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.″

Earlier in the day, Downing Street said it was “deeply regrettable” that the union was expected to take action.

Asked what prime minister Rishi Sunak’s message is for the RCN was, his official spokesman said: “We hugely value the hard work and dedication of our nurses, but it is deeply regrettable that some union members are considering this action.

“These are challenging times for everyone. I think you’ll know the RCN are asking for 17 per cent pay rise. To deliver that for all staff…that would cost £9 billion. In the current climate that is simply not deliverable.”

Wes Streeting, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
Wes Streeting, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
Ian Forsyth via Getty Images

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the government of “unacceptable negligence” over the strikes.

The Labour MP 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.”

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