Nurses set to mount first ever national strike in their biggest ever NHS walkout

Nurses are set to mount their first ever national strike in what is due to be their biggest-ever walkout.

Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will hold two days of industrial action in England, Wales and Northern Ireland next month in a row over pay.

Emergency care will still be provided, but routine services are expected to be affected by the national strikes on 15 and 20 December.

It comes as Britain faces a winter wave of walkouts, with postal staff, teachers and university lecturers launching national strikes yesterday and a wave of strikes among rail walkers in the coming weeks.

The RCN said it had called the strikes after the Government turned down its offer of formal negotiations instead of industrial action and said it will announce which NHS employers will strike next week..

In Scotland, the RCN has paused announcing strike action after the government reopened pay negotiations.

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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.

The RCN said that despite a pay rise of around £1,400 over the summer, experienced nurses had lost 20 per cent of their pay in real terms due to below-inflation awards since 2010.

RCN General Secretary 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 25,000 nursing staff had left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register in the last year, with poor pay and staff shortages affecting patient safety.

There are 47,000 unfilled registered nurse posts in England’s NHS alone, said the RCN.

Further strike action could grip the health service, with unions balloting workers for industrial action, and ambulance staff in Scotland due to walk out on Monday.

A ballot among hundreds of thousands of Unison members closes on Friday, and among Unite’s NHS members next week.

Midwives and physiotherapists are also voting on strikes, while a ballot of junior doctors opens in the new year.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “I am hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of nurses and deeply regret some union members will be taking industrial action.

“These are challenging times for everyone and the economic circumstances mean the RCN’s demands, which on current figures are a 19.2% pay rise, costing £10 billion a year, are not affordable.

“We have prioritised the NHS with an extra £6.6 billion, on top of previous record funding, and accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body to give nurses a fair pay rise of at least £1,400 this year. This means a newly qualified nurse will typically earn over £31,000 a year – with more senior nurses earning much more than that – they will also receive a pension contribution worth 20% of their salary.

“Our priority is keeping patients safe. The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.”

Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, accused the Health Secretary of refusing to negotiate with nurses.

He said: “Patients already can’t get treated on time, strike action is the last thing they need, yet the Government is letting this happen. Patients will never forgive the Conservatives for this negligence.

“First the Government refused to speak to the health unions all summer, now they refuse to negotiate. If the Conservatives have given up governing, they should stand aside for Labour.

“There were no strikes in the NHS during the 13 years of the last Labour government and the cavalry is coming with the next Labour government. We will abolish non-doms to launch the biggest expansion of medical training in history, giving the NHS the staff it needs so that nurses aren’t overworked and patients are seen on time.”

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