You’ve got 10 days to avoid NHS strike call, nurse chief tells Liz: Devastating industrial action inches closer as union threatens new PM Truss with walk-out unless workforce gets ‘fair’ 17% pay rise

  • The Royal College of Nursing wants 300,000 members to back industrial action
  • It marks first time in the union’s history that it will push for a nationwide walk-out
  • RCN has asked for staff to get a pay rise that’s at least 5 per cent above inflation

Liz Truss was today brutally informed that she had just 10 days to stop devastating NHS nursing strikes over low pay.

The Royal College of Nursing wants its 300,000-plus members to back the drastic action when they are balloted next week. 

It marks the first time in the union’s 106-year history that it will push for a nationwide walk-out.

RCN representatives have asked for staff to get a pay rise that’s at least 5 per cent above inflation, which currently sits at 12.3 per cent. 

Under the union’s proposed figure, the average nurse, who earns roughly £35,600 each year, would get an extra £6,150.

The Government’s last pay award, publicised earlier this summer, would have seen nurses get £1,400 more. However, some would have got slightly more.

The union accepted that industrial strike action should be a ‘last resort’.

However, it called the Government’s current pay offer a ‘national disgrace’ which would leave nurses more than £1,000 worse off because of the cost of living crisis. 

The Royal College of Nursing wants its 300,000-plus members to back the drastic action when they are balloted next week. It marks the first time in the union’s 106-year history that it will push for a nationwide walk-out. Pictured: nurse with a placard outside the Royal College of Nursing last summer

The Royal College of Nursing, which represents 465,000 nurses in the UK, is balloting members on whether they should strike over pay and conditions. 

If it went ahead, which will be decided by mid-October, members in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would not attend work on the days of the strike.

Like other workers nurses have legal protection from being sacked if they are participating in official and lawful industrial action.

However, unlike other sectors, some nursing staff will continue to work. This is carefully negotiated with NHS bosses before the strike takes place to ensure patient safety.

For example, an entire service — such as an intensive care unit and night duty — may be exempt from the industrial action and continue working.

The specific exemptions are negotiated between each NHS trust and the local RCN strike committee, so it won’t be clear which services would be impacted until nearer the time.

But a minimum staffing level would be in place to ensure patients have access to emergency care, urgent diagnostic procedures and they are not at risk of death or disability.

The NHS staffing crisis is also fuelling the the strike action, with eight in 10 nurses warning that there are too few medics to treat patients safely and effectively. The RCN is calling for more staff to reduce waiting lists.

Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the RCN, said ‘decisive political action’ to help nurses at home and work has ‘never before been required with such urgency’.

She said: ‘In ten days from now, we will post ballot papers to 300,000 nursing staff across the UK.  

‘After many years of underinvestment, they are standing up for patients and themselves.

‘Until the new prime minister puts forward a fair and adequate proposal, I will continue in asking nursing staff to take strike action.’

The move would follow the summer of discontent, with rail staff, barristers and rubbish collectors striking across the nation over pay disputes, amid spiralling energy bills and inflation. 

The head of the British Medical Association has also warned the strikes are a ‘distinct possibility’ among doctors this winter, with medics forced to decide daily which patients live or die because of the ‘terrible state’ of the NHS.

Junior doctors have issued ministers with an ultimatum for the end of September — warning they will vote on strike action if their 2 per cent pay offer is not upped. 

If members back the ballot, which is open until October 13, it would mark the second ever RCN strike in the union’s 106-year history. 

More than 15,000 nurses working in Northern Ireland went on strike for better pay and conditions in 2019.

It would also be the first ever strike by RCN members in England, Wales or Scotland, as well as the first nationwide strike.

Mrs Truss, who was today crowned as PM after beating rival Rishi Sunak in the Tory leadership race, has already faced the ire of medics after claiming she would divert billions earmarked for the NHS to social care. 

In response to Mrs Truss being voted the next PM, Ms Cullen said: ‘After many weeks of high rhetoric and headline-grabbing claims, the new prime minister must demonstrate to the millions of people in the UK’s health and care workforce that not only is she listening but also delivering.

‘Decisive political action to help them at home and at work has never before been required with such urgency.

‘With many of the ills in our health and care services caused by political negligence, they can be addressed by swift political attention too. As the representative of half a million nursing staff she will hear directly from me on our expectations and support for a world-class system.

‘Her stewardship of a knife-edge NHS and care system will be a key way that the public will now judge Liz Truss. 

‘She must begin by accepting that safe numbers of staff are needed immediately to stand the best chance of reducing waiting lists, giving appointments and quite literally saving lives.’

The RCN is set to send out postal ballots to 300,000 members next Thursday. 

They would then have until October 13 to submit their response. The union does not have a confirmed data for when results are due.

If nurses voted in favour of industrial action, members would not attend work on the days of the strike. But members may prefer less drastic action.

Like other workers, nurses can’t legally be sacked if they participate in official and lawful industrial action.

However, unlike other sectors, some nursing staff will continue to work. This is carefully negotiated with NHS bosses before the strike takes place to ensure patient safety.

For example, an entire service — such as an intensive care unit or night duty — may be exempt from the industrial action and continue working.

The specific exemptions are negotiated between each NHS trust and the local RCN strike committee, so it won’t be clear which services would be impacted until nearer the time.

But a minimum staffing level would be in place to ensure patients have access to emergency care, urgent diagnostic procedures and they are not at risk of death or disability.

It comes after Philip Banfield, chair of the British Medical Association, warned of a ‘winter of discontent’ in the NHS with a ‘distinct possibility’ doctors will strike over pay.

He said doctors are having to decide daily which patients live or die because of the ‘terrible state’ of the NHS and called for an inflation-busting pay rise of up to 30 per cent next year.

The NHS is staring down the barrel of its worst winter ever, with A&E and ambulance waits already at record levels and swelling backlogs for scans and routine care.

HISTORY OF NHS STRIKES 

Nurses Strike Over Pay 1988

Around 2,5000 nurses across the UK took part in a day of industrial action in protest against their pay in January 1988, backed by other NHS medics.

Nurses were offered a three per cent pay rise, while national wage increases were set to be scrapped in favour of regional packages, under Government plans. 

Health bosses said just two per cent of the country’s nurses took part and 200 operations were cancelled. 

Doctors Pension Strike 2012

Some 100,000 NHS workers took part in strike action in May 2012 in protest against pension reforms.

It came after 94 per cent of Unite union members rejected the Government’s final pension offer. 

The union argued the contract would see nurses work until they were 65-years-old and pay an extra £30 contribution per month.

Health bosses estimated 30,000 operations were cancelled, more than 1million GP appointments were delayed and 200,000 outpatient consultations were rescheduled.

Junior Doctors Strike 2016

Junior doctors in England went on strike for one day per month in the first four months of 2016 to protest against changes to their contracts.

In November 2015, almost all of the medics – 98 per cent – voted in favour of industrial action.

On the four strike days – January 12, February 10, March 9 and April 27 – junior doctors refused to provide routine care. Hospitals cancelled 300,000 outpatient appointments in response.

On the final strike day junior doctors also refused to provide emergency care. 

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