Nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have begun the biggest strike in their union’s history, after the health secretary refused to discuss pay in talks intended to avert the action.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it met with Steve Barclay on 12 December in order to begin formal pay negotiations, but Barclay refused to discuss a pay settlement.
It means that up to 100,000 nurses will walk out today (15 December), with a further day of strike action planned for Tuesday 20 December.
Union members are campaigning for a pay rise of 5% above RPI inflation, which would currently mean an increase of 19%.
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.
Following the talks on Monday, RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: “I asked several times to discuss pay and each time we returned to the same thing – that there was no extra money on the table, and that they would not be discussing pay with me.
“I needed to come out of this meeting with something serious to show nursing staff why they should not strike this week. Regrettably, they’re not getting an extra penny.”
Plans for a nursing strike in Scotland were put on hold after the Scottish government returned to the negotiating table. RCN members are currently being consulted on a revised pay offer of 7.5%.
Cullen said: “For many of us, this is our first time striking and our emotions are really mixed. The NHS is in crisis, the nursing profession can’t take any more, our loved ones are already suffering.
“It is not unreasonable to demand better. This is not something that can wait. We are committed to our patients and always will be.”