Nurses will go on strike on two days next month as part of a major escalation in a dispute over pay, the nursing union has announced.
NHS nurses will walk out in dozens of trusts on December 15 and 20, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) confirmed on Friday.
The first walkout will come just a day after the RMT union stages a strike on Britain’s railways on December 14.
In a statement, the RCN claimed that ministers had turned down their offer of formal, detailed negotiations as an alternative to industrial action.
The specific list of which NHS employers will be striking will be released next week, the RCN said. There are 12 London trusts in total where nurses are set to walk out.
Hospitals set to be affected in the capital include Guys and St Thomas, Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Royal Marsden and Kings College Hospital.
It follows a protracted row between the RCN and The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) over pay, with the union demanding a pay rise of five per cent above inflation to shield staff from a huge rise in energy bills and rent hikes.
The union claim that despite a pay rise of around £1,400 awarded in the summer, experienced nurses are worse off by 20 per cent in real terms due to successive below-inflation awards since 2010.
RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said: “Ministers have had more than two weeks since we confirmed that our members felt such injustice that they would strike for the first time.
“My offer of formal negotiations was declined and, instead, ministers have chosen strike action. They have the power and the means to stop this by opening serious talks that address our dispute.
“Nursing staff have had enough of being taken for granted, enough of low pay and unsafe staffing levels, enough of not being able to give our patients the care they deserve.”
Strike action will not impact emergency services and intensive care units will remain fully staffed, the RCN has said. However, industrial action is likely to affect routine services such as knee and hip replacements or mental health care.
The RCN’s mandate to organise strikes runs until early May 2023, six months after members finished voting.
RCN Director for England Patricia Marquis apologised to patients for any disruption during the industrial action planned for next month, but said it is necessary for things to change for the better.
Asked what her message is to patients whose operations or treatments will be cancelled because of the strike, she told Sky News: “We’re doing this for you. This is about nurses standing up for themselves but also, critically, for patients.
“We know that the public support nursing staff in general and we know they support us through this action. So we want you to come on this journey with us.”
The RCN’s General Secretary Pat Cullen said the list of health services which will be exempt from strike action will be released soon.
Asked if nurses would be on cancer wards on strike days, she said: “Services such as oncology will be derogated or exempt from any strike action. We have a number of services that we are working through at the minute that will be derogated on the day of strike, and we will release that list soon to employers.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “I am hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of nurses and deeply regret some union members will be taking industrial action.
“These are challenging times for everyone and the economic circumstances mean the RCN’s demands, which on current figures are a 19.2% pay rise, costing £10 billion a year, are not affordable.
“We have prioritised the NHS with an extra £6.6 billion, on top of previous record funding, and accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body to give nurses a fair pay rise of at least £1,400 this year.
“This means a newly qualified nurse will typically earn over £31,000 a year – with more senior nurses earning much more than that – they will also receive a pension contribution worth 20% of their salary.
“Our priority is keeping patients safe. The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.”