Nurses to stage two more strikes in February as ministers fail to negotiate on pay demands

Escalation ‘understandable’ but ‘very worrying’ as health service ‘already stretched far too thin’, says NHS Providers

Andy Gregory
Monday 16 January 2023 18:02 GMT
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NHS nurses hold signs during a strike outside University College Hospital on 20 December
NHS nurses hold signs during a strike outside University College Hospital on 20 December (REUTERS/Maja Smiejkowska)

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Nurses have announced that they will escalate their already unprecedented strikes next month, accusing Rishi Sunak’s government of failing to start negotiations on pay for the current financial year.

As nurses prepare to walk out again this week, the Royal Colleges of Nurses (RCN) union declared that further industrial action will take place on 6 and 7 February if no progress is made by the end of January.

These strikes will involve staff across a huge 73 NHS trusts in England and Wales – far more than the 44 in December and 55 in January, which the union’s general secretary Pat Cullen previously described to The Independent as the largest of their kind in the world.

The union warned last week that double the number of staff would be asked to join picket lines in early February – as the government pushes for new laws requiring minimum levels of service on strike days.

Mr Sunak is presiding over the largest wave of industrial action in Britain for decades as the cost of living crisis bites, following years of stagnating wages, with tens of thousands of teachers voting today to join picket lines and paramedics set to decide on further strikes this week.

NHS Providers, the body representing hospitals and trusts, called the escalation of nursing strikes “very worrying” and urged the government and unions to begin negotiations to avert them, saying the three-week window offered “more than enough time” to do so.

“The health service is already stretched far too thin as trust leaders try to cope with ongoing industrial action alongside other mounting pressures bearing down on the NHS,” said the body’s interim chief executive Saffron Cordery.

“We’ve seen how disruptive these strikes can be, and more extensive industrial action is likely to have an even greater impact. Nobody wants this to continue happening.

“We understand how frustrated nurses feel, and how they have got into this point: below-inflation pay awards, the cost-of-living crisis, severe staff shortages and increasing workloads have created near-impossible conditions.”

While the RCN had offered an “olive branch” to the government over Christmas, saying it was willing to meet the government half-way on its pay demands, health secretary Steve Barclay has insisted that negotiations should concern only the coming year’s pay, not “retrospective” discussions.

The value of salaries for experienced nurses today are 20 per cent lower in real terms due to successive below-inflation pay awards since 2010, according to the union, which warns that low pay is pushing nursing staff out of the profession and contributing to record vacancies.

The fresh wave of strikes in February will not take place in Northern Ireland or Scotland. Those in England and Wales will fall on the 10th anniversary of the Robert Francis inquiry and his findings on the impact of nurse shortages on patient mortality.

Ms Cullen said: “It is with a heavy heart that nursing staff are striking this week and again in three weeks. Rather than negotiate, Rishi Sunak has chosen strike action again.

“We are doing this in a desperate bid to get him and ministers to rescue the NHS. The only credible solution is to address the tens of thousands of unfilled jobs – patient care is suffering like never before.

“My olive branch to government – asking them to meet me halfway and begin negotiations – is still there. They should grab it.”

Mr Barclay is reported to have privately conceded that he will have to offer a higher pay rise to NHS staff. The Independent has approached the Department for Health and Social Care for comment.

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