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Nurses Strikes: RCN rejects the Government’s 5.2% pay offer

Nurses Strikes

New Nurses Strikes. The leader of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned that nurses could continue strike action for the rest of the year across England.

A 48-hour strike over the May bank holiday appears to be going ahead as the Government’s offer of a 5.2% pay rise for nurses, along with a one-off payment worth 6% of their annual salary, has been rejected by the RCN in a vote 54% to 46%. This decision was made on the basis that the offer was “neither fair nor reasonable” as nurses’ pay has not aligned with inflation for 13 years.

Other unions such as GMB and Unite are yet to announce the outcomes of their ballots, while members of Unison have agreed to accept the deal.

In comparison, union members in Scotland have accepted a pay rise worth an average 6.5% for 2023-24, while health unions in Wales and Northern Ireland are still in negotiations.

How have politicians responded?

General Secretary of the RCN, Pat Cullen, has rejected the Government’s request to pause industrial action. The impending walkouts symbolise a particular cause for concern for the Government – compared to previous strikes taken in February, this round will include nurses in critical areas such as A&E, intensive care, and cancer wards. The Health Secretary, Steven Barclay welcomes a meeting with the RCN and has stated that staff walkouts from these departments will “put patients at risk”.

Similarly, Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting has also expressed his dismay for the strikes, asserting that he is “really worried” and cannot support action due to the threat posed to patients.

Liberal Democrat Daisy Cooper said the warning of more strikes “must act as a wake-up call” and ministers should work “urgently” to find a solution.

Impacts of Nurses Strikes

Industrial action has been occurring since Autumn 2022 – so far, an estimated 665,000 appointments have been cancelled. After the bank holiday strikes, the RCN will vote on whether to continue walkouts for the continuation of the year. Numerous rounds of strikes occurring up until Christmas will be heavily detrimental as existing pressures on the NHS increase during winter months.

Last week alone, 175,000 appointments and procedures were cancelled as a result of the junior doctor strikes which lasted 72 hours. This has been severely damaging to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to bring down NHS waiting times. The Government is yet to negotiate with junior doctors who are calling for a 35% pay rise. On Twitter, Wes Streeting asserted “Not a single Tory Health Minister willing to account for their abysmal failure to the public. Incompetent, indefensible, contemptible”.

Sir Julian Hartley from NHS Providers has warned against any coordinated industrial action between nurses and junior doctors, stating that the bank holiday walkouts alone would mark an “unprecedented level of action”.

Final Thought

While the Government’s offer may have been accepted by Unison, strike action has hit the NHS hard and will continue to – the Government’s refusal to provide a pay offer which coincides with inflation is primarily to blame. As the cost-of-living crisis continues to place ordinary people into financial difficulty, nurses are among the many who are being pushed into in-work poverty.

Nurses who take industrial action feel they have no other choice as there is no alternative method of pushing the Government into negotiations. The longer this goes on, the weaker the Government appears.

It is time our politicians recognise that those who work in a sector with such high societal importance should not be overworked and underpaid. NHS staff are increasingly leaving the UK to work abroad – from Canada to Australia, salaries are often more than double. To ensure the longevity of the UK’s healthcare system, NHS workers cannot be ignored.

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