UK nurses set to strike in first ever national action

The biggest nursing strike in NHS history is set to take place before Christmas after union officials said that “large swathes of the country” had voted for industrial action.

The strike ballot among more than 300,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) was the largest ever in the union’s 106-year history.

Its general secretary Pat Cullen said: “Our strike action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses – we have their support in doing this.”

Although counting was still under way, RCN officials said they believe enough members have voted for winter industrial action which is set to take place within a few weeks, possibly before Christmas.

The exact nature of the strike action is yet to be determined, but it will likely see patients face disruption to operations and appointments while already facing record NHS waiting lists.

A union source told the Observer newspaper: “This will see the majority of services taken out, and picket lines across the country.”

Reacting to news that the strikes would likely go ahead, Business Secretary Grant Shapps said on Monday: "I very much hope that the NHS and others can get this resolved, because clearly it would be damaging to everybody if nurses went on strike.

“We all care about our NHS so no one would want to see that happen, including the nurses."

He added: "There is an independent body that makes recommendations on pay and we accepted it last year, so I'm not in a position to pre-empt what they or the pay body decide. A million NHS workers got an extra £1,400 last year... Strikes won't help anyone."

It also comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt already face the huge challenge of tackling a £50 billion hole in public finances.

In a statement, Mrs Cullen said: “Patients are at great risk when there aren’t enough nurses.

“Huge numbers of staff – both experienced and newer recruits – are deciding they cannot see a future in a nursing profession that is not valued nor treated fairly.”

She added: “As we begin action, politicians in every part of the UK will be challenged to back their nursing staff and understand the strength of public support.”

The RCN said there are record nursing vacancies and in the last year 25,000 nursing staff around the UK left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register.

It said recent analysis showed an experienced nurse’s salary has fallen by 20% in real terms since 2010, saying the goodwill and expertise of nursing staff is being “exploited” by governments across the UK.

The RCN is campaigning for a pay rise of 5% above inflation.

The Government has contingency plans in place for dealing with any strike by nurses, the Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden has said.

Mr 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 to 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."