NHS Providers chief executive Sir Julian Hartley has warned that a 48-hour strike by nurses, which will include emergency care, will “present serious risks and challenges”. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has rejected the pay offer for England while Unison workers accepted it.
Sir Julian said the May bank holiday strike would mark an “unprecedented level of action”. The government said it was “based on a vote from the minority” of nurses. The award on the table was a 5% pay rise for 2023-24, with an extra one-off lump sum of at least £1,655 to top up the past year’s salary.
However, on Friday the RCN announced its members had rejected the offer by 54% to 46%. The walkout from 20:00 BST on 30 April to 20:00 on 2 May will involve NHS nurses in emergency departments, intensive care, cancer and other wards.
Sir Julian said during the strike by junior doctors gaps had been filled by consultants and other staff, but he warned if nurses went ahead with their action this might be more difficult to deal with. He said: “But with nursing staff, obviously that represent a significant proportion of the workforce, taking action in those areas as well that will present an unprecedented level of action, that we haven’t yet seen from nursing stuff and therefore the challenges with that, the organisation and all the work that go into managing and mitigating that will be enormous.”
Nick Hulme, chief executive of Colchester and Ipswich Hospitals said recent strike action had been a “massive distraction from the work we should be doing” including reducing waiting times – and urged all parties to find a quick solution. He said he would be concerned if the currently separate strike action by nurses and junior doctors was co-ordinated at any stage.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt urged members of the GMB and Unite unions – which represent smaller numbers of NHS staff – to join Unison in accepting the government’s offer because it would be “best for patients and best for staff”. The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents junior doctors, said it was “not ruling in or out” of co-ordinated action with other unions – such as nurses’ unions.
Clint Cooper, a nurse at Scarborough Hospital, said he believed in the principles of what his colleagues were doing, but he decided to vote against strike action in the RCN ballot. Fellow RCN member Diane Cawood voted to reject the government’s latest pay offer, describing the staffing situation as “dire” and inpatient care as “dangerous” at the moment.
Meanwhile, a Unison member who has worked as a nurse for 30 years and voted to accept the government’s pay offer said the pressure on staff was “unsustainable” but pay was not the fundamental issue. Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary and chief executive, said that until there was a significantly improved offer, RCN nurses would be forced to go back to the picket line.
Sara Gorton from Unison said health workers would have wanted more “but this was the best that could be achieved through negotiation”. Members have “opted for the certainty of getting the extra cash in their pockets soon”, she added. Hundreds of thousands of NHS staff from other unions are still voting on the same pay deal over the next two weeks.
In Scotland, union members have accepted an offer worth an average 6.5% for 2023-24. Health unions in Wales and Northern Ireland are still in negotiations with their governments over pay. If you are a nurse with a view on the strike or a patient affected, you can share your experiences by emailing HaveYourSay@bbc.co.uk. Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also get in touch via WhatsApp or Twitter.