THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF NURSING has announced that its first strike action will take place on Thursday 15 and Tuesday 20 December. The announcement comes after the UK Government turned down the RCN’s offer of formal, detailed negotiations as an alternative to strike action.

The strikes will happen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The College will announce which particular NHS employers will see action next week when formal notifications are submitted. In Scotland, the RCN has paused announcing strike action after the government there reopened NHS pay negotiations.

Earlier this month, the RCN announced that nursing staff at the majority of NHS employers across the UK had voted to take strike action over pay and patient safety. Despite this year’s pay award, experienced nurses are worse off by 20 per cent in real terms due to successive below-inflation awards since 2010.

RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive, Pat Cullen, said: “Ministers have had more than two weeks since we confirmed that our members felt such injustice that they would strike for the first time. My offer of formal negotiations was declined and instead ministers have chosen strike action. They have the power and the means to stop this by opening serious talks that address our dispute. Nursing staff have had enough of being taken for granted, enough of low pay and unsafe staffing levels, enough of not being able to give our patients the care they deserve.”

The RCN says the economic argument for paying nursing staff fairly is clear when billions of pounds are being spent on agency staff to plug workforce gaps. Also, independent research commissioned by the RCN has shown the Exchequer would recoup 81 per cent of the initial outlay of a significant pay rise in terms of higher tax receipts and savings on future recruitment and retention costs.

In the last year, 25,000 nursing staff around the UK left the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register. Poor pay contributes to staff shortages across the UK, affecting patient safety. There are 47,000 unfilled registered nurse posts in England’s NHS alone.

London Economics, the specialist policy and economics consultancy which undertook the research for the RCN, says: “Pay increases for nurses, midwives, allied health professionals and NHS support staff are long overdue, and will result in increased disposable income circulating throughout the economy. This will benefit the many businesses up and down the country relying on a return to normality at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. Pay increases to approximately 1.1 million public sector employees across the entire United Kingdom will not only address the real erosion of pay and living standards amongst these vital public sector employees, but also provide huge financial support to those businesses and private sector employees in every sector of the economy that the government is currently supporting and most wants to succeed.”

* The Net Exchequer Impact of Increasing Pay for Agenda for Change Staff is available to download here.

* Sources: Royal College of Nursing and London Economics