The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is balloting all of its UK members for their first ever industrial action strike.
Dubbed the world’s largest nursing union and professional body, the RCN is recommending its 300,000 members walk out over pay for the first time in its 106-year history.
While the union says strikes would affect non-urgent but not emergency care, the government has urged nurses to “carefully consider” the impact that strike action could have on patients.
“It’s about survival”
“Nurses aren’t after a huge pay rise. This is not about greed, it’s about survival,” Estephanie Dunn, Regional Director for RCN North-West said.
“It’s over ten years since nurses have had a pay rise equating to the cost of living and it has become normal for nursing staff to use food banks, along with other public sector workers.”
The UK-wide ballot comes amid warnings that record numbers of nurses are leaving the profession.
The union is calling for a rise of 5% above inflation
The union is calling for a rise of 5% above the RPI inflation rate of 12% and inviting members of the public to co-sign a letter to Prime Minister Liz Truss demanding the government to “see sense” and “protect nursing”.
“Governments have repeatedly neglected the NHS and the value of nursing. We can change this if together we say ‘enough is enough’,” said RCN Chief Executive Pat Cullen in a message to members.
“Record numbers are feeling no alternative but to quit, and patients pay a heavy price. We are doing this for them too.
“It’s clear we need urgent change. Nursing is the best job in the world. Protect it with your vote.”
Pay for nurses has declined at twice the rate of the private sector
In England and Wales, NHS staff have been given an average of 4.75% pay rise, with extra for the lowest paid, while in Scotland, 5% has been given. In Northern Ireland, nurses are yet to receive a pay award.
According to London Economics, pay for nurses has declined at twice the rate of the private sector over the last decade, with their real-term earnings falling by 6%.
A hardworking Merseyside ED nurse said: “Everyone in my department works incredibly hard to make sure we give the best quality of care possible and our pay doesn’t reflect that.
“I work long night shifts and look after incredibly ill patients and worked through the worst of the pandemic. The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone, we need to be well ourselves so we can do our jobs properly.”
The union is calling for a fully-funded pay rise in line with the rate of inflation.
A chance to improve pay and combat staff shortages
Cullen said: “This is a once-in-a-generation chance to improve pay and combat the staff shortages that put patients at risk.
In England, salaries for nurses start at just above £27,000, rising to almost £55,000 for the most senior nurses. The RCN said the average pay for a full-time established nurse was just above £32,000 last year – similar to average pay across the economy.
“Any ballot for industrial action is disappointing”
Commenting on the ballot, Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Any ballot for industrial action is disappointing. We are engaged with health unions and I hope we can come to an agreement on pay in the near future.”
A poll conducted by YouGov has suggested two-thirds of the public would support nurses taking strike action, meanwhile three-quarters of respondents said there were not enough nurses to provide safe NHS care.
The cross-party Health and Social Care Committee has accused the government of showing a “marked reluctance to act” on “the greatest workforce crisis” to face the NHS and Social Care industry.
If nursing pay continues to fall further and further behind the rate of inflation, the ability to recruit and retain nurses will subsequently put service users at risk.
Describing the pay award as “a national disgrace,” the union has, unsurprisingly, said ministers have left them with no choice but to consider industrial action. Asking the public to sign an open letter to the Prime Minister, the powerful RCN letter states, ‘Unfair pay is forcing too many to leave. Over 25,000 nurses left last year alone. Without nursing staff, there will be no NHS.’