Threat that nurses could hold strikes ‘up until Christmas’ as 28 hour walkout takes place
Nurses could continue to hold strikes “up until Christmas”, the leader of the Royal College of Nursing has warned.
NHS services across England faced major disruption on Monday after nurses walked out in a 28-hour strike over pay.
The strike came ahead of a crucial meeting between a number of health unions, ministers and NHS bosses on Tuesday, when the government’s pay offer of 5% will be discussed.
The NHS Staff Council will hear reports from unions which have balloted hundreds of thousands of health workers in recent weeks.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Unite rejected the offer of a 5% pay rise for this year and a cash sum for last year, leading both unions to hold strikes onMonday.
But other unions - including Unison, the GMB and those representing midwives and physiotherapists - voted in favour.
The unions will report the ballot results to Tuesday's meeting with employers and the Health Department and will then vote on whether the offer should be accepted.
It is expected there will be a majority in favour, which would pave the way for the Government to implement the pay rise to all health workers covered by the agreement, including members of the RCN and Unite.
This offer only covers the 2022/23 pay period however, and disputes over the 2023/24 period could continue.
RCN members will be reballoted after rejecting the pay offer put to them earlier this year, despite other unions accepting it.
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said a failure by the government to change its approach to pay would mean the same cycle of strike action repeating again and again.
“It is for the secretary of state to come back around the table and put a better offer on the table,” Ms Cullen told Sky News on Monday.
If this fails to materialise, Ms Cullen said the country could “see our nursing staff on picket lines up until Christmas. But we don’t want that”.
“We do need to bring this health service back from the brink”, she said.
She later added: “The hundreds of nurses I met today at five different hospitals had the energy and determination for the months ahead. The Government must not underestimate their resolve. The majority of our members voted to reject the deal and to keep campaigning for something better.
“Tuesday’s meeting with Steve Barclay appears a foregone conclusion. Different unions and different professions came to different, but respectable, conclusions on this pay offer.
“The deal being accepted by others does not alter the clear fact that nursing staff, as the largest part of the NHS workforce, remain in dispute with the Government over unfair pay and unsafe staffing.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said he is "cautiously optimistic" that unions will accept the current pay offer on Tuesday, despite increasingly heated rhetoric between negotiators.
The Health Secretary said on Monday: "I'm cautiously optimistic that the Staff Council will agree to vote in favour of the deal.
"But I think it's right to wait until Tuesday for the Staff Council to meet and this strike is premature.
"I think it's disrespectful to the other trade unions. I think the RCN should have waited. They're a member of the Staff Council. They were part of the negotiations."
The RCN strike, which was scheduled to end just before midnight, involved nursing staff from A&E, intensive care and cancer care for the first time.
However, exemptions were granted for nurses in the emergency departments of some hospitals, including Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).
Nurses comprise a quarter of NHS staff and are the biggest proportion of the health service workforce.
NHS workers took part in a march in central London on Monday. RCN members joined and Unite said the march coincided with a strike by its members in Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and the Yorkshire Ambulance Service.