Nurses to be balloted over fresh wave of strikes

It comes as one nursing leader said she was still hoping for a resolution to the dispute.

Ella Pickover
Tuesday 09 May 2023 20:33 BST
Nurses in England are to be balloted over fresh strikes (PA)
Nurses in England are to be balloted over fresh strikes (PA) (PA Wire)

Nurses are to vote on whether or not they are in favour of taking more strike action after rejecting the revised pay offer from the Government.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has announced the dates when its members in England will be balloted over more walkouts.

The ballot will open on May 23 and close on June 23, the RCN said.

If nurses vote in favour of action, strikes could occur at every NHS trust in England.

It comes as Pat Cullen, RCN chief executive and general secretary, told MPs nurses “feel desperation for someone to listen to them”.

She said the Government needs to “add to” the revised pay offer to resolve the dispute with nurses.

Ms Cullen told the House of Common’s Health and Social Care Committee: “We’ve said to Government, and urged Government as a royal college, to take nothing off the table, please add to it, and that’s what we need to do to resolve this dispute.”

Asked whether she was hopeful for a successful reballot, Ms Cullen added: “What I’m hoping for is a resolution to the current dispute, that’s really, really important.

“If we get a resolution to the current dispute we wouldn’t have to see our nurses take to picket lines again.”

Ms Cullen added: “I think if you were to test the temperature for the mood within nursing staff, they feel desperation for someone to listen to them, and if the only way they can get listened to is through industrial action, then I would suggest that may be the only case.”

She said the stories from nurses on strike are “harrowing”, adding: “These people are not villains, they’re actually desperate to try and sort out the real problems that are within the NHS, and they’re wanting to address the real problems we’ve got within the profession.”

In an email to RCN members, Ms Cullen said: “Every day, patients are at risk due to chronic staffing shortages. The Government has tried to turn people against us by saying strikes are unsafe.

“But it’s their failure to invest in nursing that has made our wards unsafe. Record waiting lists, people left for hours in A&E, staff forced to treat patients in corridors – it’s all been caused by tens of thousands of nursing vacancies, not by our strikes.

“So now I’m asking you to use your voice again. From 23 May to 23 June, you’ll get to vote on whether you’re prepared to strike in the coming months to further our call for a fair settlement – one that shows the Government values and understands our profession, and cares about public safety.

“Your vote continues to be vital. By voting, you can help make the challenges facing our profession impossible to ignore. You can force the Government back to the negotiating table and to make an improved pay offer. You can give a voice to patients no longer safe in an NHS that is falling apart due to government underfunding.” 

RCN members voted against the Government’s offer of a 5% pay rise this year and a cash payment for last year.

Members of Unite also voted against, although members of other unions including Unison and the GMB accepted it.

Ms Cullen said she was “very hopeful” to get back to negotiations with Health Secretary Steve Barclay.

Asked whether she hoped for a resolution before the parliamentary summer recess, Ms Cullen added: “I live in absolute hope.”

It comes as NHS leaders warned that hospital bosses have “shuddered” at the thought of a potential co-ordinated strike between junior doctors and nurses.

There are currently no plans for a joint walkout but NHS experts were asked about the prospect by the committee of MPs.

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said a co-ordinated strike between junior doctors and nurses would give NHS hospital bosses “fewer options” when planning for strikes.

“I know a lot of the colleagues I represent would shudder at the thought of a co-ordinated action in that way, given the challenges that would present,” he added.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of NHS Confederation, added: “I think, all bets would be off if we were in a situation where both the junior doctors and nurses (walk out).

“It wouldn’t just be ‘how do we cope with the day despite the knock-on effects?’ It really would be incredibly difficult to maintain patient services to guarantee patient safety.”

Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said: “We must remember that the ballot for industrial action by nurses is yet to open and it’s important not to pre-empt the outcome.

“There is still time for serious talks between the Government and unions to resolve these ongoing disputes and to avert further strikes.

“However, trust leaders will understandably be alarmed by the prospect of more disruptive strikes by nurses – but this time at a national level – just as the NHS is dealing with the aftermath of the most significant period of industrial action in the health service’s history.”

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