Sunday, 16 June, 2024
HomeMedico-LegalFirst ever mass NHS nurses strike looms over pay

First ever mass NHS nurses strike looms over pay

Thousands of nurses could walk off the job later this month when NHS workers take to the picket line over pay after Britain’s nursing union, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), closed its historic strike action ballot of its 300 000 members on Friday.

If nurses vote to go ahead with a walk-out, the law requires the strike be held in England, Scotland and Wales within six months of 4 November, and sets up the possibility of a walk-out in the spring. However, any action must be held within one month of the ballot closing in Northern Ireland.

It means nurses there could fire the starting gun of the NHS’ winter of discontent, potentially before the end of November, reports the Daily Mail.

The NHS is also gearing up for potential industrial action from other staffing groups, with junior doctors, midwives and non-clinical workers like cleaners and porters also considering union action.

The 106-year-old union is demanding nurses receive a cost-of-living pay rise of 5% above inflation, currently siting at 12.3%.

This is far above the government’s current offer, which is roughly 4%. Bowing to union pressure could cost taxpayers an extra £1bn.

It comes as NHS hospitals in England were ordered to plan a military-style operation to prepare for potentially devastating strikes this winter. Officials have been told to ensure each part of the service is ready if the historic, NHS-wide industrial action goes ahead, an operation called Exercise Arctic Willow.

Widespread industrial action could see thousands of operations and appointments cancelled.

The operation, an extension of usual routine winter exercises carried out by trusts to plan for incidents like flu outbreaks, will take place in mid-November.

It shows how seriously the NHS is taking the threat of large-scale strikes, but so far the government and staff unions remain at loggerheads.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen has said the government’s current offer of around £1 400 per nurse, in reality “makes a difference to a nurse’s wage of 72p an hour”.

This, the union argues, is driving nurses to leave the NHS for better paid jobs in retail and hospitality, further exacerbating staff shortages.

The RCN is demanding nurses get a salary rise of 5% above inflation. This would grant the average nurse, who earns roughly £35 600 each year, an extra £6 150.

If the strike does go ahead, the RCN will be expected to maintain a minimum staffing level to ensure patients have access to emergency care, urgent diagnostic procedures, and that they are not at risk of death or disability.

Like other workers, NHS staff cannot legally be sacked if they participate in official and lawful industrial action.

Nurses could be joined by midwives later in the year, with the Royal College of Midwives launching its own ballot next week.

The British Medical Association, a union representing 160 000 GPs, consultants and junior doctors, has also warned that industrial action by the profession is “inevitable”. It is set to poll junior doctors, who are demanding the equivalent of a 26% pay rise, in January.

Meanwhile, Unison is asking 350 000 NHS staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including porters, nurses, paramedics and cleaners, to vote in favour of walking out.

A ballot of its 50 000 members in Scotland, which was already under way, has been suspended after a new pay offer.

Fellow NHS staff union, GMB, is demanding NHS staff of all levels including cleaners and porters, get a 15% pay rise, or £2 more per hour, whatever is higher.

If multiple NHS staff ballots on industrial action are successful it could see thousands of doctors and nurses walk out in protest over their pay in early 2023.

This would coincide with a busy winter for the NHS, with the health service expected to be battered by additional admissions for COVID, flu and other seasonal viruses, combined with higher staff sickness rates and a record backlog.


Daily Mail article – Devastating nurse strikes might begin BEFORE Christmas: 100-year-old Union's ballot ends as thousands vote on first EVER mass NHS walk-out (Open access)


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