Exemptions for Great Ormond Street amid ‘serious concerns’ about strike impact

The Royal College of Nursing has granted exemptions to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) during the bank holiday nursing strike, in an apparent U-turn on its decision to refuse derogations.

The world-renowned children’s hospital had expressed “serious concerns” about patient safety as union members prepare to walk out in a long-running pay dispute with the Government.

The RCN, which is holding a strike from 8pm on Sunday until 11.59pm on Monday evening, previously said it will not agree to derogations – broad areas of care where unions agree to provide staffing during industrial action.

But union leader Pat Cullen said mitigations were granted on Friday following a request from GOSH, saying nurses working at the hospital would “never ever” leave child patients at risk.

Ms Cullen said any suggestion that mitigations were not being put in place were “factually incorrect”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “All of the exemptions that Great Ormond Street requested of the Royal College of Nursing were granted earlier yesterday.”

The protocol surrounding exemptions requires the RCN to pass its approval on to NHS England, which is then responsible for notifying the individual organisation, Ms Cullen said.

She added that any derogations being sought by other organisations would be given “very careful consideration” to ensure critical areas of care can continue.

Support the Strikes march
People gather in London ahead of a Support the Strikes march in solidarity with nurses, junior doctors and other NHS staff (PA)

Mat Shaw, the hospital’s chief executive, had said: “We respect the right of our staff to take part in lawful industrial action, but after exhausting all options, at the moment we have serious concerns over how we will safely staff our hospital during the strike.

“There is nothing more important than the safety of our patients and so we have no choice but to declare a business continuity incident.”

Following the exemptions, Mr Shaw said the hospital was “incredibly grateful” to the union.

But he added that the business continuity incident announced in the wake of the strike would remain in place until GOSH is confident it can safely staff its services.

“We fully support the right of our staff to strike, and know this decision will not have been taken lightly,” he said.

“There has been a significant impact on all our services across the hospital. We are doing our best to minimise disruption for all of our patients and apologise to those families who have been affected.”

It is understood the situation is under review and the business continuity incident will be stood down once GOSH is confident it can provide safe staffing levels.

Nurses make up a quarter of NHS staff and are the biggest proportion of the health service workforce.

As the NHS prepares to cope with the strike, NHS England is urging the public to use the health service wisely.

It said emergency and urgent care would remain the priority, with people asked to use other services such as pharmacies and 111 where possible.