ITV News' Dani Sinha reports on the strike action which looks set to be taken by nurses across the UK
Nurses across the UK are thought to have voted to strike in the first ever national action over a pay dispute, with the biggest nursing walkout in NHS history set to take place before Christmas.
The final results are being counted and are due to be unveiled within the next few days.
It is understood that RCN officials believe enough members have voted for winter industrial action, which is set to take place within a few weeks, possibly before Christmas.
The exact nature of the strike action is yet to be determined, but it will likely see patients face disruption to operations and appointments while already facing record NHS waiting lists.
A union source told the Observer newspaper: “This will see the majority of services taken out, and picket lines across the country.”
In a statement, Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary and chief executive, said: “Patients are at great risk when there aren’t enough nurses.
“Huge numbers of staff – both experienced and newer recruits – are deciding they cannot see a future in a nursing profession that is not valued nor treated fairly.”
“As we begin action, politicians in every part of the UK will be challenged to back their nursing staff and understand the strength of public support.”
The RCN is campaigning for a pay rise of 5% above inflation, having argued this year's below-inflation pay award followed years of squeezes on nurse's salaries.
Numerous other health unions, such as Unison, the Royal College of Midwives, GMB and Unite, have all started to, or are planning to, ballot their members.
Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden has said that the government has contingency plans in place for dealing with any strike by nurses.
'It is extremely difficult to see how patients won't be affected in some shape or form'
Mr Dowden told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme that in the event of industrial action the NHS would prioritise the most essential services – although he acknowledged that it would have an impact on other activity.
“We have well-oiled contingencies in place and the Department of Health is across how we would deal with a scenario like this should it arise,” he said.
“We will make sure we prioritise the most essential services – emergency services and so on. But of course there would be an impact as a result of a strike like that.
“I would continue to urge nurses and others to resist going out on strike even if they have voted to do so. We have already agreed quite considerable support for nurses.
“Of course, if you are in the situation where you have a large number of nurses going out on strike, of course that is going to have an impact for example on some elective surgery and other activities.”
The RCN said there are record nursing vacancies and in the last year 25,000 nursing staff around the UK left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register.
It said recent analysis showed an experienced nurse’s salary has fallen by 20% in real terms since 2010, saying the goodwill and expertise of nursing staff is being “exploited”.
The prospect of nurses striking over pay will be a huge challenge to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who are trying to tackle a £50 billion hole in public finances.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson has previously said: "We are giving over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year, as recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body, on top of 3% last year when pay was frozen in the wider public sector.
"Industrial action is a matter for unions, and we urge them to carefully consider the potential impacts on patients."
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