A&E crisis: Now nurses to strike for 48 hours as emergency staff join biggest walkout so far

‘By refusing to negotiate with nurses, the Prime Minister is pushing even more people into the strike’ nursing chiefs warn

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Friday 17 February 2023 09:42 GMT
UK healthcare strike: Nurses and ambulance crews demand pay rises

Thousands of A&E and cancer nurses across England are set to walk out for 48 hours as part of a significant escalation of strike action.

For the first time, the Royal College of Nursing is allowing A&E, intensive care and cancer nurses to take to the picket line from 1 to 3 March.

Nurses in 128 out of 214 NHS trusts nurses could walk out, more than double the number taking part in the last round of action.

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive for NHS Providers, warned “this is the most worrying escalation of strikes yet”.

“With more than 140,000 appointments already postponed as a result of the walkouts, this is a step no one wants to take,” he said.

“A continuous 48-hour strike with no exceptions in A&E, intensive care units or cancer care services will be a huge blow – especially as even more trusts will be affected this time.

“With further strikes by ambulance workers planned in the coming days and weeks, and junior doctors’ walkouts also likely, trust leaders are now in a near-impossible position.

“Without a resolution, this ongoing dispute could lead to serious, long-term damage to the NHS. We understand that frontline staff feel they’ve had no choice but to take this action due to challenges including the high cost of living, workforce shortages and below-inflation pay rises.”

He said trusts are “deeply concerned” that their efforts to cut the NHS backlog will be hampered.

RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said the action was being taken with a heavy heart (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

It comes as the health service is experiencing its worst winter ever with 50,000 patients a week delayed in A&E for 12 hours over December, as revealed by The Independent. Almost 140,000 patients have had their surgery or appointments canceled during strike days as NHS ambitions to cut the waiting list down take a major hit.

The RCN has warned that previous national agreements for staffing services during strikes will be stopped for the March dates, although it is “continuing discussions” over life-saving care with the NHS.

The union is almost doubling its strike benefit rate for staff to £120 for nurses choosing to take action.

RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen, said: “It is with a heavy heart that I have today asked even more nursing staff to join this dispute.

“These strikes will not just run for longer and involve more people but will leave no area of the NHS unaffected. Patients and nurses alike did not want this to happen.

“By refusing to negotiate with nurses, the prime minister is pushing even more people into the strike. He must listen to NHS leaders and not let this go ahead.

“I will do whatever I can to ensure patient safety is protected. At first, we asked thousands to keep working during the strikes but it is clear that is only prolonging the dispute. This action must not be in vain – the prime minister owes them an answer.”

NHS workers will be taking part in more walkouts (EPA)

The escalation of nurses’ strikes comes ahead of likely action from junior doctors whose ballot is due to end on Monday.

Unison, which has represented 15,000 ambulance workers in strikes days so far is set to announce further workers joining action tomorrow following a re-ballot of 10 NHS ambulance trusts, The Independent understands.

NHS Confederation boss Matthew Taylor said the NHS has now “drifted into dangerous ‘business as usual’ territory when it comes to striking action” and said the government must reach a compromise imminently.

Health secretary Steve Barclay said: “Failure to provide cover during strike action for key services like cancer care is a significant escalation from the Royal College of Nursing that will risk patient safety.

“We are working closely with NHS England on contingency plans, but this action will inevitably cause further disruption for patients.

“I’ve had a series of discussions with unions, including the RCN, about what is fair and affordable for the coming year, as well as wider concerns around conditions and workload.”

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