Nurses going on strike without emergency care exemption 'putting patients at risk'

Striking nurses will “clearly” put patients’ safety at risk due to the lack of exemptions for emergency care, the Transport Secretary has said.

Hospitals are bracing themselves for low staff numbers in some regions when nurses walk out on Sunday evening.

The strike by Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members will take place from 8pm on Sunday until 11.59pm on Monday and they have said that this time they will not provide emergency cover.

It was to have lasted into Tuesday but that plan was curtailed when a High Court judge ruled it unlawful.

Asked on Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme about the risk posed to patients, Conservative MP Mark Harper said: “It clearly does put patients at risk, which is why we urge the unions not to go ahead and do the strike.”

He had earlier urged the RCN to accept the pay offer for its members.

Mr Harper said: “I would urge them to think again and to do what the other trade unions in the health service have done, which is to accept what I think is fair and reasonable pay offer, reflecting the value that we do place on hardworking NHS staff.”

It came as the general secretary of the RCN said that nurses have worked “tirelessly” with the NHS to ensure patient safety.

Speaking to Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Pat Cullen said: “There are national exemptions in place for a range of services, for emergency departments, for intensive care units, for neonatal units, paediatric intensive care units, those really acute urgent services.

“We have put national exemptions in place, we’ve worked tirelessly with NHS England.

“In fact, it was the Royal College of Nursing who contacted NHS England to ask for a process to be put in place so that we make sure that the strike was safe for our patients.”

As the NHS prepares to cope with the impact of 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.

The RCN said it will only agree to derogations - areas of care where unions agree to provide staffing during industrial action - on request, meaning most nurses in intensive care, A&E and cancer care will be on strike for the first time.

The union said it expects NHS employers to review services and focus on delivering “life-preserving care” but said it would work with the NHS to deal with “extreme circumstances” on strike days.

NHS England warned staffing levels for some areas of the country will be “exceptionally low”.