Royal College of Nursing: Nurses could strike until Christmas if no deal reached with government over pay
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The Royal College of Nursing’s leader has warned of more strikes until Christmas and that the nurses would not pause a 48-hour strike in England over the first May bank holiday. In an interview with the BBC, RCN’s general secretary Pat Cullen said the government needed to put more money on the table.
The government has offered a 5% pay rise in 2023/24 and one-payment of at least £1,655, which Conservative party chairman Greg Hands described as “fair and reasonable”. Unison had on Friday, accepted the pay deal with nearly three-quarters (74%) of members voted in favour.
Asked if this was a final offer, Mr Hands told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg the government would need to see what other health service unions involved in the pay dispute decided in their ballots, pointing out it had already been accepted by Unison members.
The RCN leader had initially called for this deal to be accepted but members voted to reject it by 54% to 46%, while the Unite and the GMB unions will announce the result of their ballots in two weeks’ time.
The RCN strike will affect NHS nurses in emergency wards, intensive care units, cancer wards, and other places for the first time, as the previous nurses’ strike in February had exemptions to ensure crucial staffing levels.
Speaking to Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Hands said the offer amounted to an extra £5,100 for a typical band 5 NHS worker. Health Secretary Steve Barclay also said in a letter to the RCN that a nurse at the top of band 5 would get "over £5,000" extra. He added he would welcome a meeting with the RCN and feared no strike exemptions will "put patients at risk".
Ms Cullen said that after the walkout from 8pm on April 30 to 8pm on May 2, the union would "move immediately to ballot our members" on their next move. She said: "If that ballot is successful it will mean further strike action right up until Christmas.
She also rejected calls from ministers to pause strike action, revealing she had received a letter from Mr Barclay asking for this half-an-hour before she came on air. Describing the letter as "disrespectful" to nurses, she claimed the health secretary “had spent longer writing in the Sun on Sunday newspaper than responding to nurses.”
In the paper, Mr Barclay warned the strikes would mean more cancelled operations and postponed treatment - and "none of this is good for the NHS or patients". In response, Ms Cullen said the government should join her union at the negotiating table, adding: “Start treating nurses with a bit of decency and a bit of respect."
Asked why RCN nurses rejected the government’s pay offer despite the union’s leadership recommending it, Ms Cullen said the members believed it was "neither fair nor reasonable". This comes a day after a four-day walkout by junior doctors - who are demanding a 35% pay rise - ended.
On Saturday, the British Medical Association, which represents junior doctors, said it was "not ruling in or out" the prospect of co-ordinated action with other unions. Asked whether this was a possibility, Ms Cullen said she had no plans for any co-ordinated action.
She added: "But if the government continues to allow doctors and nurses to spend their time on picket lines and not in their places of work in hospitals and communities, then of course the impact of those strikes, whether co-ordinated or not, will be felt by our patients.”