Nurses set to stage two more strikes in January as NHS faces further difficulty

Strikes were a defining issue of 2022 and the new year looks set to start in the same fashion, as Libby Wiener reports

The NHS faces further difficulty as nurses announced two further strike dates in January - the busiest time of year for the health service.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said unless negotiations around pay are opened, its members will walk out on January 18 and 19.

More nurses are set to take part in these strikes than the walkouts that happened earlier this month, with numbers increasing from 44 to 55 trusts according to the RCN.

RCN members will not be striking in Wales and Northern Ireland again in January, but they may do so in the future if there are more strikes.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen, said: "The Government had the opportunity to end this dispute before Christmas but instead they have chosen to push nursing staff out into the cold again in January.

"I do not wish to prolong this dispute but the prime minister has left us with no choice.

"The public support has been heart-warming and I am more convinced than ever that this is the right thing to do for patients and the future of the NHS.

"The voice of nursing will not be ignored. Staff shortages and low pay make patient care unsafe – the sooner ministers come to the negotiating table, the sooner this can be resolved. I will not dig in, if they don’t dig in."

In Scotland, RCN members this week overwhelmingly voted to reject a revised NHS pay offer from the Scottish government.

Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf met with representatives from trade unions on Friday to inform them that the pay offer – which will see wages rise by an average of 7.5% and 11.3% for the lowest earners – will go through in the new year.

Mr Yousaf said the deal is the “best and final offer”, with no additional funds available for the 2022/23 pay increase.

However, he pledged to continue “meaningful dialogue” with unions to work on an improved pay offer for subsequent years.

Nurses are demanding an above inflation pay rise. Credit: PA

The offer has been rejected by members of the GMB, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), while Unite and Unison accepted it.

Colin Poolman, director of RCN Scotland, said 82% of the union’s members rejected the deal.

It will now continue with planned strike action in the new year, with dates set to be outlined in January.

Ambulance drivers have also been on strike. Credit: PA

Elsewhere, a planned post-Christmas strike by ambulance workers in the GMB union has been suspended after “amazing” public support for industrial action this week.

Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary said: “We are overwhelmed by Wednesday’s amazing public support for our paramedics and ambulance staff.

“People across the country have been wonderful in backing us and we care so much about them too. That’s why we are suspending the proposed GMB industrial action on December 28."

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said that while health leaders will be relieved by next week’s strike being called off, trouble awaited in the New Year.

Yesterday ambulance workers from the Unison union announced they would hold two fresh strikes in England on January 11 and 23.

Health secretary Steve Barclay said 'strikes are in no one’s best interest'. Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Mr Taylor added: “The new strikes announced for January could have been avoided had the Government attempted to find more common ground with the unions over pay.

“The Government cannot just sit back and let these strikes happen when patient care is on the line and the unions must honour their commitment to protect ‘life and limb’.

“It’s clear this is becoming critical and the worry is that the NHS will be held hostage to this position of stalemate between both sides.

“This benefits no-one and the Government must act and reach a compromise with trade unions now.”

Health secretary Steve Barclay said he is "disappointed" that further ambulance strikes have been announced for January.

He claimed it was an attempt "to cause maximum disruption at a time when the NHS is already under extreme pressure".

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“Ambulance staff on picket lines have been raising concerns about working conditions and handover times, so it is important to use this extra time to keep talking about how we can make the NHS a better place to work," Mr Barclay added.

"However, the unaffordable pay demands of unions would mean taking money away from frontline services and cause further delays to care.

“Strikes are in no one’s best interest, least of all patients, and I urge unions to reconsider further industrial action to avoid an even greater impact on patients.”

The nurse and ambulance strikes earlier this month crippled the NHS for several days, with the knock-on effect of the walkouts expected to take weeks to sort out.

The government has stood its ground so far in the industrial dispute saying they have offered a fair pay rise for health workers and insisting the priority should be to get inflation down.

Large sectors of the transport industry are also striking with border force and rail strikes creating havoc for people's Christmas plans.