THE WORLD’S LARGEST NURSING TRADE UNION and professional body is recommending that hundreds of thousands of its members support industrial strike action in a ballot that opens in mid-September.

The postal ballot will ask RCN members working for the NHS in England and Wales, on Agenda for Change contracts, if they will take strike action which involves a complete withdrawal of labour. It will open on Thursday 15 September for four weeks.

If its members support strike action, it will be the first ever strike by RCN members in England or Wales. The College went on strike for the first time in its history in Northern Ireland in 2019.

The College has also announced that it has increased its industrial action strike fund to £50 million, up from £35 million. The College’s governing elected Council took this decision to provide financial support towards lost earnings during strike action.

The College has called for a fully funded pay rise for nursing staff of five per cent above inflation, which is currently 11.8 per cent. Last month (July), the Government announced a much lower pay award that leaves an experienced nurse over £1,000 worse off in real terms.

The College is asking its members to urgently check that it has their up-to-date home addresses and employer details so they are eligible to take part in the postal ballot. It described the recent pay award as “a national disgrace” and says ministers’ refusal to listen to nursing has left it with no choice but to consider industrial action.It believes industrial strike action always should be a last resort, but the current NHS staffing crisis is causing unacceptable risk to patients and staff.

A recent survey of RCN members found 83 per cent of respondents said staffing levels on their last shift were not sufficient to meet all the needs and dependency of their patients safely and effectively, a 10 per cent rise from 2020.

It comes as a recent poll showed 60 per cent of the public in England support nurses and nursing support workers taking industrial action.

In Northern Ireland, a formal pay announcement is still awaited. In Scotland, the College has urged its members to reject a five per cent pay offer from the Scottish government for the majority of NHS staff working on Agenda for Change contracts. The indicative ballot, which also asks if members would take industrial action, has now closed.

Pat Cullen, RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive, said: “Nursing staff will stop at nothing to protect their patients. Staff shortages are putting patient safety at risk and the government’s failure to listen has left us with no choice but to advocate for strike action.

“A lifetime of service must never mean a lifetime of poverty. Ministers refusal to recognise the skill and responsibility of the job is pushing people out of the profession. The next prime minister must change course urgently.”

Carol Popplestone, Chair of RCN Council, said: “After years of underpayment and staff shortages, the fight for fair pay must strengthen. Your vote in the upcoming ballot will be essential to turning the tide on low pay.

“Please urgently check we have your up-to-date home addresses and employer details so you can cast your vote. This year’s pay award does not help you with the rising cost of living. It will do nothing to help to recruit or retain more nursing staff where you work and will not keep patients safe.”

A report from the Health and Social Care Committee published on 25 July found a significant lack of transparency on workforce planning, and said that 475,000 jobs will be needed in health and an extra 490,000 jobs in social care by the early part of the next decade. On pay, the Committee said it is unacceptable that some NHS nurses are struggling to feed their families, pay their rent, and travel to work. It recommended that nursing staff should be given a pay rise that takes account of the cost-of-living crisis.

* Read the Health and Social Care Committee report here.

* Source: Royal College of Nursing