A strike ballot among more than 300,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has ended, with the result due in the coming days.
It was the biggest strike ballot in the RCN’s 106-year history, reflecting the seriousness of the dispute over pay which is raging across the NHS.
Civica Election Services undertook the ballot on behalf of the RCN, with papers needing to be returned by 12pm on Wednesday.
The ballot was carried out at an employer rather than a national level, meaning the thresholds required for strike action to be lawful in each country will be used to determine at which workplaces strike action could be held.
The votes are being counted.
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “I want to thank members for taking the time to vote in this historic ballot.
“There has never been a more crucial time to fight for safe staffing and fair pay.
“Our NHS is on the precipice due to chronic staff shortages.
“Our profession is being pushed to the edge, with patient safety paying the price.
“None of us wants to take industrial action but we’ve been forced into this position after a decade of real-terms pay cuts.
“We can’t stand by and watch our colleagues and patients suffer anymore. Enough is enough.”
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.