The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union have announced that record numbers of nurses have voted to go on strike this winter, with walkouts expected to begin before the end of the year and last until May 2023.
The strike ballot was put to 300,000 nurses registered with the RNC, which represents around two-thirds of all nurses. The ramifications will be felt in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, with nearly 200 NHS organisations being affected.
Following the result of the vote, RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “This is a defining moment in our history, and our fight will continue through strike action and beyond for as long as it takes to win justice for the nursing profession and our patients.”
One of the primary motivations behind the decision to strike is a demand for better pay. The salary for experienced nurses is down 20% in real terms since 2010. The RCN is seeking a pay rise of 5% above RPI inflation.
A recent State of Care report by the CQC highlighted the struggle to recruit and retain nurses within the NHS, stating that many nurses were leaving in favour of better paid positions elsewhere. With such a significant deficit of registered nurses, desperate NHS bosses are frequently forced to use agency staff to fill gaps in rotas; often resulting in exorbitant premium rates being paid.
But some nurses are concerned there will be a media narrative that the decision to strike shows a lack of concern for patient care, even though patient-safety is a major impetus for the strike action. In June of this year, the RCN published the results of a survey, in which they addressed staffing levels and the effect on patient care. Thousands of nurses took part in the survey and eight in ten stated that during their last shift there wasn’t an adequate number of staff to provide safe and effective care for all patients. The RCN also stated that a mere 25% of shifts had the planned number of registered nurses.
At the time Pat Cullen stated: “These results speak for themselves. The risk to patients, to services and to health and care staff is simply unacceptable. The complacency from governments across the UK is unacceptable.”
The government has previously proposed recruiting nurses from overseas as a solution to staffing shortages, and huge recruitment drives were suggested by Health Secretary Steve Barclay.
The strike will be the first of its kind in 106 years, and will impact thousands of patients, with operations and procedures being delayed.
Downing Street has said that the demands – which would cost £9 billion pounds to meet – was “not deliverable”. Health Secretary Steve Barclay has stated that he regrets the outcome of the vote to strike, and is having ongoing meetings with the RCN.