The Royal College of Nursing, one of the biggest healthcare unions in the United Kingdom, are still counting ballots after members conducted the largest vote in the union’s history. The vote, regarding industrial action over pay, polled around 300,000 nurses and healthcare workers, as a round of strikes look set to occur.
Should action be confirmed, it would mark the first time in history that NHS nurses and healthcare workers who make up the RCN’s membership would end up on picket lines since RCN changed industrial action rules in 1995.
Officials expect to announce shortly that the majority of nurses in some of the UK’s main trusts and health organisations have voted to strike, with dates tentatively set sometime “before Christmas”. The ballot comes as pay disputes once again appear at the forefront of another set of industrial action affecting the UK’s infrastructure.
Speaking to The Guardian, Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary and chief executive, said: “Patients are at great risk when there aren’t enough nurses. Huge numbers of staff – both experienced and newer recruits – are deciding they cannot see a future in a nursing profession that is not valued nor treated fairly.
“Our strike action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses – we have their support in doing this. As we begin action, politicians in every part of the UK will be challenged to back their nursing staff and understand the strength of public support” he continued.
NHS England sent a letter to NHS trusts and integrated care boards last week over the potential action. It said: “The NHS’s task now is to be prepared for any potential industrial action so there is minimal disruption to patient care and emergency services can continue to operate as normal.”
Why are nurses going on strike?
The strike action that is likely to go ahead stems from what RCN have called an “exploitation of nursing staff [that] cannot be tolerated any longer” as the pay of some experienced nurses has fallen by 20% in real terms since Conservatives took power in 2010. They had called for a pay award of 5% plus inflation – a total of about 15%.
But the government said the average basic annual pay for nurses would increase from about £35,600 to around £37,000 from March 2022, a rise of just 4%, despite the rate of inflation being the highest in the UK since the 1980s.
The government is facing a £50billion debt in the national budget which both new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt are trying to resolve ahead of their next Autumn Budget scheduled for November 10. That is compounded by NHS waiting lists, reported to contain seven million Brits waiting for hospital treatment.
What happens if I have an emergency while nurses are on strike?
Under the RCN protocols for strikes, any “life-preserving” care is maintained. Life-preserving services include emergency interventions, maintenance of therapeutic services and urgent diagnostic procedures. It would mean nurses in critical care units and A&E departments would be exempt from taking part.