Nurses across the UK will go on strike for the first time over two days in the fortnight before Christmas after ministers rejected their pleas for formal NHS pay talks.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said its members would launch national strikes – the first in its 106-year history – on December 15 and 20. High-ranking sources said the industrial strike is expected to last 12 hours on both days – most likely between 8am and 8pm.
An unprecedented national industrial strike will seriously disrupt care and is likely to be the first in a series of strikes over the winter and into the spring by other NHS staff, including junior doctors and ambulance workers.Read:Met Office gives Christmas Day weather forecast and prediction for a Reading White Christmas
RCN said it confirmed the dates after the UK government rejected its offer of formal and detailed negotiations as an alternative to an industrial strike.
RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said, “It has been more than two weeks since ministers confirmed that our members felt such an injustice that they were going to strike for the first time.” “My offer of formal negotiations was rejected, and instead the ministers chose to go on strike.
They have the power and the means to stop this by opening serious talks that address our dispute.
“Nursing staff are tired of being taken for granted, enough of low wages and insecure levels of staffing, enough of not being able to give our patients the care they deserve.”Read:Scots rapist enters home he thought was owned by young woman in chilling footage
Strikes will take place in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The RCN will announce which NHS employers will be affected next week, when formal notifications are made.
In Scotland, the RCN has stopped announcing a strike after the Scottish government reopened NHS wage 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.
The RCN said that despite a pay rise of around £1,400 in the summer, experienced nurses are 20% worse off in real terms because of successive under-inflation awards since 2010.
The RCN said the economic case for paying nursing staff was fairly clear when billions of pounds have been spent on agency staff to fill workforce gaps.
She added that last year, 25,000 nursing staff across the UK left the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s register, with poor wages contributing to staff shortages across the country, which she warned was affecting patient safety. There are 47,000 NHS Registered Nurse vacancies in England alone.
Other health unions also poll workers for industrial action. They have been warning for months that workers are quitting in droves over wages and low morale, leading to staff shortages in hospitals and other parts of the NHS.Read:TfL bans busking during Queen Elizabeth mourning
Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said: “Why on earth would the health secretary refuse to negotiate with the nurses? Patients really can’t be treated on time, and a strike is the last thing they need, but the government is letting that happen. Patients will never forgive the Tories for this neglect.” .
The health secretary, Steve Barclay, insisted he was “extremely grateful” for the hard work of the nurses and expressed deep regret at the industrial strike. However, he refused to open formal talks and called the RCN’s demands “unreasonable”.
“Our priority is keeping patients safe,” Barclay added. “The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to minimize disruption and ensure emergency services can continue to operate.”