The Royal College of Nursing has announced the first national nurses strike in its 106-year history.
Members eligible to vote in the strike ballot, which closed last week, have been informed by email whether their place of work will be participating in the action. The union said the strike action would affect the majority of NHS employers.
Some hospitals narrowly missed the legal turnout thresholds required for strike action, but the RCN said “many of the biggest hospitals in England” would be involved.
All NHS employers in Northern Ireland and Scotland met the turnout requirement, the RCN said, while all bar one in Wales met the relevant threshold.
The timelines for industrial action are yet to be announced, but strikes are expected to take place before the end of the year.
Union members are campaigning for a pay rise of 5% above RPI inflation, which would currently mean an increase of 17%.
Nurses to strike
They argue they have suffered real-terms pay cuts in recent years, leaving experienced nurses 20% worse off than a decade ago and many employees struggling to cope with the rising cost of living.
In July, the government announced a pay rise of at least £1,400 for NHS staff in England and Wales, with some bands receiving higher awards. The Nuffield Trust has suggested that more than 40,000 nurses left the profession last year.
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said the ballot result was “a defining moment in our history”.
“Anger has become action – our members are saying enough is enough. The voice of nursing in the UK is strong and I will make sure it is heard. Our members will no longer tolerate a financial knife-edge at home and a raw deal at work,” she said.
“This action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses. Standards are falling too low and we have strong public backing for our campaign to raise them. This winter, we are asking the public to show nursing staff you are with us.”
She added that next week’s fiscal statement would be an opportunity to “signal a new direction with serious investment” in nurses: “Across the country, politicians have the power to stop this now and at any point.”
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the decision to strike would not have been taken lightly by nursing staff.
“Years of suppressed pay alongside 47,000 vacancies across England and rising demand for healthcare have led to many feeling demoralised and that they are at the end of the road,” he said.
“The entire NHS is being hit hard by rising inflation and the cost-of-living crisis and with other trade unions also considering industrial action for their members, this feeling of despair is felt from other health professions and the wider public sector too.”
“The last thing anyone wants is a ‘war of attrition’ playing out over many months” – Matthew Taylor, NHS Confederation
Taylor added that he hoped negotiating parties could reach a compromise that would minimise disruption for patients and staff.
“The last thing anyone wants is a ‘war of attrition’ playing out over many months,” he said.
“Health leaders are now focused on understanding the specific implications of industrial action in their services and putting in place to ensure that as a minimum, urgent, emergency and critical care services can continue on any strike days.
“If any changes need to be made to non-urgent care services, such as check-ups and elective care, they will ensure this is communicated in advance to patients.”