The nursing union plotting devastating walk-outs across the NHS today threatened more chaos in the coming months unless ministers cave into its pay demands.
The Royal College of Nursing today unveiled that the initial round of strikes will take place on December 15 and 20. It marks the first UK-wide walk-out in the union’s 106-year history.
Pat Cullen, general secretary of the RCN, claimed the action, which insiders fear will cost lives, was a result of Government ‘choosing strikes over listening to our nursing staff’.
She said nurses will continue to take to picket lines ‘until this Government listens to them’. The RCN is demanding a nearly 20 per cent pay rise, compared to the offered four per cent.
The Royal College of Nursing announced the first in a series of walk outs over pay will take place on Thursday 15 and Tuesday 20 December
Pat Cullen (left), general secretary of the RCN, said the action, which insiders say will cost lives, was a result of ministers ‘choosing strikes over listening to our nursing staff’. Ms Cullen said she had had multiple meetings with Health Secretary Steve Barclay (right) in recent weeks but he had made clear he would not discuss pay
This graph shows the Royal College of Nursing’s demands for a 5 per cent above inflation pay rise for the bands covered by its membership which includes healthcare assistants and nurses. Estimates based on NHS Employers data
The RCN is just one NHS union which has or is balloting its members over pay
Nursing strikes Q&A: Everything you need to know
What was the result of the strike?
Nurses at the majority of NHS organisations on the ballot voted to strike – 176 out of 311 NHS employers across the UK. Some did not meet the 50 per cent turnout threshold.
When will strikes last and how long will the strike last?
Strikes will take place on December 15 and 20. The RCN has warned they could last until early May 2023 if the Government doesn’t meet their demands.
What level of care can patients expect?
The RCN handbook says nursing provision during the strike period should be equal to the skeleton staffing usually seen on Christmas Day, although the NHS says it has well-tested procedures to limit disruption.
Which nurses will remain in post?
Emergency nurses in A&E and intensive care will keep working, as will district nurses who help elderly people in the community. Other exemptions will be negotiated at a local level.
Why are nurses going on strike?
The Royal College of Nursing is campaigning for a pay rise of five per cent above inflation, claiming an experienced nurse’s salary has fallen by 20 per cent since 2010.
What is the pay deal they are unhappy with?
Nurses in England and Wales received a pay increase of at least £1,400 this year, but the RCN claims this left them effectively working a day a week for free.
Have there been nursing strikes before?
Yes – some nurses from the union UNISON went on strike in 2014 and RCN nurses in Northern Ireland walked out in 2019 but this is the first time the RCN has balloted all its 300,000 members in all UK countries in its 106-year history.
Who could be next to strike?
Hundreds of thousands of junior doctors, midwives, physiotherapists, paramedics, ICT staff and porters are among NHS staff either being balloted or expected to be balloted on strike action over anger about pay rises. The next result should be from Unison, who closes its ballot on November 25 after asking 350,000 NHS workers whether they want to strike.
Rishi Sunak said he has ‘enormous respect’ for nurses but the pay rise requested by the union is ‘obviously unaffordable’.
The Prime Minister told broadcasters: ‘I have enormous respect and gratitude to our nurses as everyone does for the incredible job they do.
‘And I know things are difficult right now for everyone because of what’s happening with inflation.
‘And that’s why our plans that we outlined last week will get a grip of inflation and bring it down. That’s really important.
‘And in the meantime, what the unions are asking for, I think, is a 19 per cent pay rise.
‘And I think most people watching will recognise that that’s obviously unaffordable, and that’s why I’m pleased that the Health Secretary is sitting down, talking to the union, and hopefully we can find a way through this.’
Ms Cullen told BBC Breakfast: ‘I have tried now for two weeks, multiple occasions, to get the Government at Westminster to listen to the voice of our members.
‘But that has fallen on deaf ears and as a result they have chosen strikes over listening to our nursing staff.
‘So unfortunately we have been pushed to the position of having to issue two dates for strikes right in the middle of December when our nurses will stand on picket lines — losing a day’s pay on both occasions when they cannot afford it.
‘But they will continue to do that to speak up for their patients, they will continue to do that until this Government listens to them.’
She added: ‘You turn your back on nurses, you turn your back on patients.’
The Government announced this summer that nurses would receive a roughly four per cent, or £1,400, pay rise following an independent pay review process.
But the RCN is demanding that the rise is increased to five per cent above RPI inflation, which currently stands at 14.2 per cent.
Under the Government’s plans, the average nurse’s pay would rise from £35,600 to £37,000. But the RCN want it boosted to £42,400, which would cost taxpayers £10billion, according to official estimates.
The RCN is also demanding better working conditions.
Ms Cullen said she had had multiple meetings with Health Secretary Steve Barclay in recent weeks but he had made clear he would not discuss pay.
She said: ‘If Mr Barclay wishes to meet with me and get round a table and stop the spin and start to speak he can avert these strikes.
‘But my door is wide open, night and day, I will make myself available, as will my team on behalf of our nursing staff.
‘That option isn’t available to me and this time, and consequently, he has chosen strikes over speaking to me.’
The strikes are expected to see thousands of operations and appointments cancelled across the country next month.
Emergency and life-preserving care will continue on strike days.
But it is unclear how other services will be impacted.
Health insiders have warned the strikes will cost lives, with a ‘bank holiday service’ causing delays and cancellations to everything from routine operations to chemotherapy.
Some of the most serious cancer cases could be treated, while urgent tests and assessments will be staffed if they are needed to gather data on conditions that could be fatal or cause permanent disability.
It is possible some areas may have a night duty model, where the number of staff usually working nights take on the day shift instead.
Ms Cullen said local strike committees in each NHS organisation that voted to strike will soon set out ‘very detailed and worked-through plans’, covering which services will be staffed.
She said the committees will include clinical experts who will ‘guide and direct all decisions that will be made’.
And the RCN boss suggested that cancer care will also go ahead.
Ms Cullen said: ‘Services such as oncology will be derogated or exempt from any strike action.
‘We have a number of services that we are working through at the minute that will be derogated on the day of strike, and we will release that list soon to employers.’
Pressed on scans or cancer checks such as colonoscopies, she said: ‘All of the detail is being worked through.
‘Those services that are not considered life-preserving or emergency services will not be derogated. Those that do fall into those particular descriptions will be derogated.’
Health leaders have said they will do ‘everything in their power’ to minimise strike disruption.
NHS Providers, the membership organisation for the NHS hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services, said while no-one wants to see strikes, it understands ‘how strongly nurses feel and why it has come to this’.
The latest NHS data recorded that about 45,000 nursing posts in England are vacant as of the end of June. London has highest percentage missing, with 15 per cent of nursing posts unfilled
NHS data shows efforts to get more nurses into the health service are only barely keeping pace with the number of experienced nurses quitting
The graph shows the current average salary of public sector workers (blue bars) and how much more their unions are asking their pay to be increased by (yellow bars). The nurses’ union is asking for a salary increase of five per cent on top of RPI inflation, which currently sits at 12.6 per cent
Cancer survivor is told he’ll have to wait two-and-a-half YEARS for a hospital appointment due to dire NHS backlog
A cancer survivor has told of his devastation at learning he has to wait at least two years for a hospital check-up.
Andrew Jones won’t be seen until June 2025, illustrating just how much the NHS is struggling to cope with its record backlog.
Mr Jones, who was given the all-clear five years ago, suffered bladder damage after his operation. It left him needing the toilet more than usual.
His GP decided he needed to see a consultant urologist, in order to assess the scale of the problem. Mr Jones, a grandfather in his sixties, assumed the invite was going to be for 2023.
Recalling his thoughts when he discovered it was actually not until 2025, he told ITV News: ‘I thought, I’m going to be 64.
‘I didn’t think it was a life-threatening problem that I got, but I don’t know that.
‘I don’t know what the problem is, so in 2025 it could be twice as worse.’
He assumed the appointment date at Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital was a mistake, telling his partner: ‘This has got to be a typo, it has got to be 2023.’
Mr Jones told the Shropshire Star: ‘It is beyond belief really. I knew the NHS is in a state but I did not think it was that bad.’
It is not clear what cancer Mr Jones, from Ditton Priors near Bridgnorth, has.
The organisation urged the Government to ‘act fast and talk to nurses and union leaders’ in order to find a way to avert the strikes.
Meanwhile, nurses say they are working 13-hour shifts with no breaks and struggling to cover their bills.
Nurses leaving St Thomas’ Hospital in central London on Friday morning said they supported the two-day walk out in December.
Lauren Cavile, 32, said she struggled to pay bills on her monthly wage and said she did not earn enough to be ‘overworked’, ‘fatigued’ and ‘burnt out’.
Kate Sturmer, 27, has also worked in hospitals in Australia and described the pay in the UK as ‘(seemingly) the lowest’.
Midwife Lauren Nielson, 25, said she, her colleagues, and nurses were working 13-hour shifts with no breaks because of low staff numbers and demanding levels of paperwork.
‘I just want to be able to eat my dinner,’ she added.
Although Ms Nielson is not due to strike as a midwife, she thought the nurse walkouts were ‘great’. She added that it is much easier for bus and train drivers to take industrial action than it is for nurses.
‘We turn up because patients will die if we don’t,’ she added.
In response to the strike date announcement, Mr 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 per cent pay rise, costing £10billion a year, are not affordable.’
He highlighted that the NHS will be given an extra £6.6billion in funding this year to boost its productivity.
And the independent NHS Pay Review Body recommendations means a newly-qualified nurse will earn over £31,000 per year, while all nurses get a pension contribution worth 20 per cent of their salary.
He said: ‘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.’
However, the RCN argues that, despite the £1,400 pay award, nurses are 20 per cent off worse off in real terms due to successive below-inflation pay rises since 2010.
The union said the economic argument for paying nursing staff fairly was clear when billions of pounds was being spent on agency staff to plug workforce gaps… There are 47,000 unfilled nurse roles in England alone.
Other health unions are also balloting workers for industrial action, while ambulance staff in Scotland are due to walk out on Monday.
A ballot among hundreds of thousands of Unison members closes on Friday, and among Unite’s NHS members next week.
Midwives and physiotherapists are also voting on strikes, while a ballot of junior doctors opens in the new year.
Meanwhile, the NHS backlog in England had already hit a record 7.1million in September, latest figures show, with hundreds of thousands in the queue for treatment for more than one year.
A&E performance fell to at a fresh low, with around 1,400 attendees forced to wait 12-plus hours in emergency departments every day last month. The lowest proportion ever recorded were seen within the NHS target of four hours.
And ambulances took longer than ever to reach 999 callers of all severities in October. Health leaders say ‘unprecedented demand’ continues to pile strain on the struggling service.
The data reflect the situation before winter pressures, such as an expected rise in Covid and flu admissions, have been felt in hospitals.
The NHS blames the crisis on record demand, Covid pressures, workforce shortages and the bed blocking crisis — which saw an average of 13,613 beds per day in October, equivalent to one in seven — occupied by people who no longer need to be there.