Nurses ‘struggling to live’, union leader warns amid new strike ballot

The Royal College of Nursing is currently balloting members in England on further strike action over pay.

Ella Pickover
Monday 12 June 2023 18:27 BST
Nurses in England could stage strikes until Christmas if they agree to continue strikes in the current ballot (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Nurses in England could stage strikes until Christmas if they agree to continue strikes in the current ballot (Jordan Pettitt/PA) (PA Wire)

Nurses are “struggling to feed their families and keep a roof over their head”, the head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned.

Pat Cullen said nurses are “struggling to live”, which is why they rejected the Government’s revised pay offer.

Ministers said the deal was the “final offer” but the RCN is currently balloting members in England over further strike action.

The RCN held out against the deal even though the majority of other unions representing staff on the Agenda for Change contract – which includes the majority of NHS staff apart from doctors, dentists and senior managers – voted to accept the deal.

They are really struggling to live – they’re struggling to feed their families, they’re struggling to keep a roof over their head

Pat Cullen, RCN

Ms Cullen, the union’s chief executive and general secretary, told BBC Breakfast: “What they’re saying to me is that they are really still financially struggling and that is having a major impact both on their professional and their personal lives.

“They’re also saying that the offer that was put on the table isn’t enough and they want the Government to finish off the deal – to get around the table and prevent them having to strike from now up to Christmas if they vote again on this ballot.”

She added: “If we look at nurses’ pay, it is significantly low. Their pay over this past decade has dropped by 20%, and they are really struggling to live – they’re struggling to feed their families, they’re struggling to keep a roof over their head.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear those nurses saying that they now have to choose whether they stay on as a nurse or go elsewhere so that they can feed their families and keep a roof over their head.

“That’s not a way to treat the nursing staff. Every patient needs a nurse at some point in their lives so we need to do the decent thing for them.”

Asked about the prospect of more strikes, she said: “It worked the last time because in the past six months we’ve had negotiations with Government – negotiations that we wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t have taken the action that they took, so they’re willing to take that action again.

“They actually lose out during that action.

“This isn’t about them being selfish or reckless, it’s about standing up again for the health service just as we’re about to embark on the 75th year anniversary, and shouldn’t we be celebrating it?

“But we need to celebrate it by able to by being able to fill the vacant posts that we’ve got.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We hugely value the work of nurses and it is disappointing the RCN is balloting its members for further industrial action.

“The majority of unions on the NHS Staff Council voted to accept the Government’s fair and reasonable pay offer – which includes a pay rise of 10.7% over two years for newly qualified nurses – and we hope RCN members recognise this is a fair deal and decide it is time to bring industrial action to an end.

“We have helped nearly two million people out of absolute poverty since 2010 and have launched a £94 billion support package worth around £3,300 per household to help those most in need, as well as raising benefits by 10.1%.”

– The RCN ballot for members in England is running until June 23.

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