Essential NHS Services Will Be Prioritised If Nurses Go On Strike, Minister Says

Nurses are campaigning for a pay rise of 5% above inflation. (Photo: Mark Kerrison via Getty Images)
Nurses are campaigning for a pay rise of 5% above inflation. (Photo: Mark Kerrison via Getty Images)

Nurses are campaigning for a pay rise of 5% above inflation. (Photo: Mark Kerrison via Getty Images)

Contingency plans are in place to ensure that the most essential NHS services will run if nurses go on strike, a Cabinet minister has said.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is expected to announce later this week that its members have voted for strikes over pay.

The RCN, which represents around 300,000 members including nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants, is calling for a pay rise of 5% above inflation.

Health workers in other unions, including ambulance staff, hospital porters and cleaners, are also voting on industrial action over pay, while Unison and the GMB are set to announce ballot results later this month.

The prospect of NHS strike action represents another headache for Rishi Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt as they try to plug a fiscal black hole of up to £50bn.

Speaking to Sky News, Dowden said there were “well-oiled contingencies in place” to deal with any potential industrial action.

“We will make sure we prioritise the most essential services – emergency services and so on. But of course there would be an impact as a result of a strike like that,” he told presenter Sophy Ridge.

“I would continue to urge nurses and others to resist to going out on strike even if they have voted to do so. We have already agreed quite considerable support for nurses.”

He added: “Of course, if you are in the situation where you have a large number of nurses going out on strike, of course that is going to have an impact for example on some elective surgery and other activities.”.

The RCN carried out a strike ballot that was the largest in its 106-year history.

Although counting is still under way, it is understood that RCN officials believe enough members have voted for winter industrial action which could take place in the next few weeks and before Christmas.

While it is not yet clear what services will be affected by the potential strike, patients are likely to face disruption to operations and appointments at a time of already record-hight waiting lists.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “Patients are at great risk when there aren’t enough nurses.

“Huge numbers of staff – both experienced and newer recruits – are deciding they cannot see a future in a nursing profession that is not valued nor treated fairly.

“As we begin action, politicians in every part of the UK will be challenged to back their nursing staff and understand the strength of public support.”

The RCN said there are record nursing vacancies and that 25,000 nursing staff around the UK had left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register in the last year,

It cited analysis that showed an experienced nurse’s salary had fallen by 20% in real terms since 2010, saying the goodwill and expertise of nursing staff is being “exploited” by governments across the UK.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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