Nurses will continue to provide emergency and life-sustaining care under union laws, but routine services will cease.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) announced strikes on 15 and 20 December as a row over pay continues to escalate across the NHS. The union said it was left with no choice after the government rejected its offer of formal negotiations as an alternative to industrial action.
RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said: “It has been more than two weeks since ministers confirmed that our members felt the injustice they were going to strike for the first time. My offer of formal negotiations was rejected, and instead the ministers chose to go on strike.
They have the power and the means to stop this by opening serious talks that address our dispute. The nursing staff is tired enough of being taken for granted, enough of low wages and insecure levels of staffing, enough of not being able to give our patients the care they deserve.”
Other arguments for the strike include the fact that 25,000 nurses left the Nursing and Midwifery Board’s register in the past year, contributing to severe workforce gaps and low morale. The RCN has warned that there are 47,000 registered nurse vacancies in the NHS in England alone.
More health hits on the horizon
Midwives are also currently voting on strikes, and the ballot for junior doctors opens in the new year. In Scotland, ambulance staff are due to be discharged on Monday (November 28).
Industry strike announcements for nurses in Scotland have been paused after the government there reopened NHS pay negotiations. But strikes will continue in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with no particular NHS employers to take part next week confirmed when formal notifications are given.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “I am extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of the nurses and deeply sorry that some union members will go on strike. These are challenging times for all and economic conditions mean that the RCN’s demands, which say a wage increase of 19.2%, at a cost of £10bn a year, are out of reach.
“We have prioritized the NHS service with an additional £6.6 billion, on top of previous record funding, and approved recommendations from the independent NHS Pay Review Body to give nurses a fair pay increase of at least £1,400 this year. This means a newly qualified nurse will get Typically earning more than £31,000 per annum – with senior nurses earning much more than that – they will also receive a pension contribution of 20% of their salary.
Our priority is keeping patients safe. The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to minimize disruption and ensure emergency services can continue to operate.”
Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said: “Why on earth would the health secretary refuse to negotiate with nurses? Patients can’t really be treated on time, and a strike is the last thing they need, but the government is letting that happen. Patients will never forgive the Tories for this neglect.
“There were no strikes in the NHS in 13 years of the last Labor government and the knights are coming with the next Labor government. We will abolish NGOs to launch the largest expansion of medical training in history, giving the NHS the staff it needs so nurses are not overworked.” Patients are examined on time.”