Government has ‘contingencies in place’ if nurses go on strike

The Government says it has contingency plans for dealing with any strike by nurses amid the growing threat of widespread industrial action in the NHS.

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

Health workers in other unions, including ambulance staff, hospital porters and cleaners, are also voting on industrial action over pay.

Unison and the GMB are set to announce ballot results later this month, while physiotherapists and midwives will start voting soon.

Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden said that in the event of industrial action, the NHS would prioritise the most essential services – although he acknowledged that it would have an impact on other activity.

“We have well-oiled contingencies in place and the Department of Health is across how we would deal with a scenario like this should it arise,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.

“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.

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

“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.”

An RCN spokesperson said: “Cutting nurses’ wages by 20% since 2010 is the opposite of providing ‘considerable support’ for nurses and the Cabinet Office Minister shouldn’t insult our members by pretending it is.

“The minister appears in denial about both the anger of nursing staff and the public support we have.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We value the hard work of NHS staff including nurses, and are working hard to support them – including by giving over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year as recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body, on top of 3% last year when pay was frozen in the wider public sector.

“Industrial action is a matter for unions, and we urge them to carefully consider the potential impacts on patients.”