Britain’s nursing union is demanding No10 gives its members an extra £1.4billion or they’ll go on strike.
The Royal College of Nurses (RCN) today sent its 300,000 members a ballot, urging them to vote for industrial action for the first time in its 106-year history, to force the Government to up its offer.
If nurses take to the picket line, it would be the first ever UK-wide walk-out and could lead to thousands of operations and procedures being cancelled.
Union bosses are demanding nurses get a salary uplift of at least five per cent above inflation, which currently sits at 12.3 per cent.
This would grant the average nurse, who earns roughly £35,600 each year according to the Government, an extra £6,150.
In comparison, the Government has offered NHS nurses a salary rise of roughly four per cent, giving the average nurse an extra £1,400.
But to meet the RCN’s demand, the Government would have to stump up, in theory, an extra £4,750 per nurse, a colossal £1.4billion in total.
The Royal College of Nurses wants nurses to get a pay rise 5 per cent above inflation, far above the around 4 per cent being offered by No10
The latest NHS data recorded that about 45,000 nursing posts in England are vacant as of the end of June. London has highest percentage missing, with 15 per cent of nursing posts unfilled
WHAT PARTS OF THE NHS COULD STRIKE?
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is urging its 300,000-plus members to vote in favour of strike action when ballots open next month.
The chair of the British Medical Association has warned strike action is ‘inevitable’.
It could see 160,000 doctors, consultants and GPs walk out.
The Royal College of Midwives will put putting industrial action to a vote to its 50,000 members.
Two-thirds have already said they would be willing to strike in a preliminary poll.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) said more than eight in 10 of its 60,000 members are prepared to strike.
Members will be balloted for the first time in the CSP’s 100-year history over pay.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Ministers must be wary of nodding through each and every pay demand.
‘NHS nurses do an admirable job, but inflation-busting pay hikes would ultimately have to be taken from struggling taxpayers or siphoned off patient services.
‘Government urgently needs to get a grip on budgets and set out more sensible offers.’
Speaking today, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said giving nurses a ‘decent wage’ was the only way to stop them fleeing the NHS.
She added it would help plug thousands of vacancies across the health service.
Ms Cullen insisted nurses would still ‘provide critical care’ if their members do walk out this winter, however.
A record 40,000 nurses left the NHS in the past year — one in nine of the workforce, according to research by the Nuffield Trust.
Health leaders have warned that staff are resigning in order to earn better wages in pubs, restaurants and coffee shops to cope with the cost-of-living crisis.
Earlier this year hospitals were forced to set up food banks and voucher programmes to help healthcare workers who cannot afford rent, fuel or food.
As with other workers, nurses cannot legally be sacked if they participate in official and lawful industrial action.
However, unlike other sectors, some nursing staff will continue to work.
This is carefully negotiated with NHS bosses before the strike takes place to ensure patient safety.
For example, an entire service — such as an intensive care unit or night duty — may be exempt from the industrial action and continue working.
The specific exemptions are negotiated between each NHS trust and the local RCN strike committee so it won’t be clear which services could be impacted until nearer the time.
But a minimum staffing level would be in place to ensure patients have access to emergency care, urgent diagnostic procedures and they are not at risk of death or disability.
The RCN £6,150 pay increase is based on a 17 per cent increase on the Government’s estimate of an average nurse salary being £35,600.
Many NHS nurses, such as those in entry level positions, earn significantly less than this, currently about £25,500, whereas senior professionals will earn more.
NHS data shows efforts to get more nurses into the health service are only barely keeping pace with the number of experienced nurses quitting
HISTORY OF NHS STRIKES
Nurses Strike Over Pay 1988
Around 2,500 nurses across the UK took part in a day of industrial action in protest against their pay in January 1988, backed by other NHS medics.
Nurses were offered a three per cent pay rise, while national wage increases were set to be scrapped in favour of regional packages, under Government plans.
Health bosses said just two per cent of the country’s nurses took part and 200 operations were cancelled.
Doctors Pension Strike 2012
Some 100,000 NHS workers took part in strike action in May 2012 in protest against pension reforms.
It came after 94 per cent of Unite union members rejected the Government’s final pension offer.
The union argued the contract would see nurses work until they were 65-years-old and pay an extra £30 contribution per month.
Health bosses estimated 30,000 operations were cancelled, more than 1million GP appointments were delayed and 200,000 outpatient consultations were rescheduled.
Junior Doctors Strike 2016
Junior doctors in England went on strike for one day per month in the first four months of 2016 to protest against changes to their contracts.
In November 2015, almost all of the medics – 98 per cent – voted in favour of industrial action.
On the four strike days – January 12, February 10, March 9 and April 27 – junior doctors refused to provide routine care. Hospitals cancelled 300,000 outpatient appointments in response.
On the final strike day junior doctors also refused to provide emergency care.
NHS pay is also devolved matter, with Scotland and Wales having the power to up the offer made by Westminster.
However, the other UK nations receive funding for NHS salary uplifts via the Barnett formula, so No10’s final offer has far-reaching implications.
RCN-commissioned analysis from London Economics shows that between 2011 and 2021, the median weekly pay for nurses fell six per cent in real terms.
For comparison, real earnings fell 3.2 per cent among all private sector employees and 4.6 per cent among UK employees earning the median amount over the same decade.
The analysis also shows that private sector pay fell 0.2 per cent between 2013 and 2018, while it plummeted 8.3 per cent among nurses.
And a YouGov poll of 1,791 people across the UK last month found that 65 per cent of the public support nurses taking strike action.
The ballot will close on November 2.
Official NHS data shows England alone is missing a record 45,000 nurses.
This equates to 11.8 per cent of the total nursing positions in the NHS as of June this year, the most recent reporting period.
London is the hardest hit region, missing out on 11,185 nurses, about 15 per cent of capitol’s total NHS nursing workforce.
Over a quarter of these are mental health nurses, professionals who help people going through a crisis like depression or crippling anxiety.
The Midlands second worst-hit region, with 12.6 per cent of its nursing posts unfilled, followed by the South East at 12.4 per cent.
The largest vacancies by professional group were recorded in North East and Yorkshire where a whopping 43.1 per cent (118 positions) were unfilled.
Ambulance nurses are medics who can be sent out on emergency calls with paramedics to provide front-line care outside a hospital.
Ms Cullen told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Nurses have made every attempt to get the Government to listen to the fact that there’s hundreds of thousands of nursing vacancies across this country and nurses are struggling to provide safe care for their patients.
‘The only way that we’re going to address those vacancies and ensure that we recruit nurses into our health services and hold on to the brilliant services that we’ve got is if we pay them a decent wage.’
She added: ‘Nurses will do nothing to add to the risk that patients are facing every single day as a consequence of not having those nurses in the system to look after them.
‘We continue to provide critical services throughout any strike.’
She said nurses are taking action to ‘save the health service’, adding they are currently ‘struggling to provide safe care for their patients’ due to a lack of staff.
In separate comments today, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer repeatedly said he does not want strikes to go ahead, though he added he understands why nurses are considering them.
He told BBC Radio Devon: ‘I completely understand why people are concerned and considering industrial action. But let me be clear… I don’t want these strikes to go ahead. The last thing that anybody who works in the NHS wants is to go on strike, what they need is a resolution of the issues.’
The RCN is inviting members of the public to co-sign a letter to Prime Minister Liz Truss which says: ‘On behalf of the nursing profession, I implore you to see sense. Protect nursing to protect the public.’
Health workers in other trade unions are also being balloted for industrial action over pay.
The British Medical Association, a union representing 160,000 GPs, consultants, and junior doctors, has warned industrial action is ‘inevitable’.
It is set to poll junior doctors — who are demanding a 26 per cent pay rise — and potentially other medical groups in the near future.
Consultants and GPs are also contemplating industrial action, following what medics have called ‘derisory’ pay offers from the Government.