Nursing strikes will be largest in world, union warns Sunak

The two days of nursing strikes will be the largest of their kind in the world if Rishi Sunak does not negotiate on pay, a union leader has warned.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen has told the Prime Minister he could get the action in England called off if he takes up her offer to meet halfway.

She is due to meet Health Secretary Steve Barclay for talks about future pay next week, but without a breakthrough on the existing deal the strikes on January 18 and 19 will go ahead.

Mr Barclay has suggested striking health workers could get significant pay boosts from April if they accept “efficiency” reforms, but was not willing to discuss the existing settlement.

Steve Barclay visit to King’s College University Hospital
Health Secretary Steve Barclay (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Sunak urged health leaders on Saturday to take “bold and radical” action to alleviate the winter crisis in the NHS after pledging to cut waiting lists in the next two years.

But Ms Cullen warned him his target will fail if he does not negotiate on nurses’ pay.

In an interview with the Independent website, Ms Cullen said: “We balloted around 320,000 nursing staff and my understanding is it has been the largest ballot of nursing staff in the world and it is the largest nursing strike in the world.

“We’ve also increased the number of organisations (such as NHS Trusts). There are now 70 involved. First time around it was 46.”

Ms Cullen has said she would be willing to consider a pay rise of 10%, rather than the around 19% previously requested if the Government backs down and negotiates.

Other unions representing striking health workers will join the talks on Monday.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Barclay said: “I remain ready to engage with unions on what the Government can do to support the workforce, and I look forward to talking with the trade unions to see how we make any settlement done through the independent pay body more affordable, where there are productivity and efficiency opportunities.”

The Health Secretary also said he will announce further steps to “improve the flow through our hospitals” on Monday with around 13,000 NHS beds blocked by delays in discharging payments.

The Sunday Times reported that an emergency winter pressure package will include a hospital discharge fund for thousands of NHS patients to be moved to care home beds.

Thousands of beds could be block-bought by the Government under the strategy, which is hoped to have an effect within a month.