Thousands of nurses go on strike across England

ITV News' Health and Science Editor Emily Morgan reports on what is becoming an unbearably bitter pay dispute between nursing unions and the government

Thousands of nurses across England are going on strike as a bitter pay dispute with the government continues.

Nursing staff from more than 55 NHS trusts will take part in industrial action on Wednesday and Thursday following two days of action in December.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has announced that two further, bigger strikes will be held next month, while the GMB union is expected to announce further ambulance worker strike dates.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said while he recognises the cost of living pressures on NHS staff, "unaffordable pay rises" will stoke inflation.

Striking nurses had a clear message for the prime minister: 'Pay us properly or get out.'

Writing in the Independent, he said: "If we provide unaffordable pay rises to NHS staff, we will take billions of pounds away from where we need it most. Unaffordable pay hikes will mean cutting patient care and stoking the inflation that would make us all poorer."

He insisted there is "much common ground" between both sides of the dispute, stating that ministers "want to work with union leaders to improve the NHS and deliver better care" and that a "fair way" to a resolution can be found.

Mr Barclay added that he wants to continue the "constructive dialogue" with unions and to agree minimum staffing levels during industrial action "to ensure patients are always protected".

Meanwhile, the NHS is reminding patients to attend all their usual appointments unless they have been contacted, and to seek urgent care if needed during the strikes.

The health secretary said while he was 'disappointed' by the strikes he was pleased that nursing unions had recognised the most recent negotiations as 'collegiate' and 'collaborative'

NHS England said patients should use services "wisely" by going to NHS 111 online, but continuing to call 999 in a life-threatening emergency.

Deputy chief nursing officer Charlotte McArdle said: "The strike is taking place in 55 organisations today, which is a minority of healthcare providers, and all of the other services are available: GPs, pharmacies, 111 for non-urgent, non-emergency and 999 of course for emergency service.

"So my message to the public is today: 'Unless you’ve heard otherwise from your health provider you should turn up for your appointments as normal and continue to use the services as you need them today'."

Thousands of operations and appointments are expected to be cancelled during the two consecutive days of strike action. Almost 30,000 needed to be rescheduled following December’s nurse strikes.

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The health service is likely to run a bank holiday-style service in many areas.

The RCN has agreed to staff chemotherapy, emergency cancer services, dialysis, critical care units, neonatal and paediatric intensive care.

Some areas of mental health and learning disability and autism services are also exempt from the strike, while trusts will be told they can request staffing for specific clinical needs.

When it comes to adult A&E and urgent care, nurses will work Christmas Day-style rotas.

Why are nurses striking? ITV News' Faye Barker explains what's behind the industrial action and how the dispute might end

Speaking to ITV News, RCN chief executive Pat Cullen said: "This government has 100% got this wrong. They really need to listen to the voice of the 300,000 plus nurses that have given us the strongest mandate ever to speak up on their behalf.

"They need to start to get around the negotiation table, they need to start to grasp the nettle that is required in these circumstances.

"They need to get to the table, start to negotiate, sort out nurses' pay for 2022/23, so that we can try to address the recruitment and retention issues that we've got within the profession."

Mr Barclay has signalled that pay negotiations will look ahead to next year rather than reflecting on the 2022/23 pay award, which unions have said must be reviewed.

RCN chief executive Pat Cullen told ITV News the decision to end strikes by nursing staff now lies with Rishi Sunak

He said: "Patients will understandably be worried by the prospect of further strike action by nurses - the previous two days of nurse strikes saw around 30,000 elective procedures and outpatient appointments cancelled.

"It is inevitable industrial action will have an impact on patients. I have had constructive talks with the Royal College of Nursing and other unions about the 2023/24 pay process and look forward to continuing that dialogue."

The RCN has been calling for a pay rise at 5% above inflation, though it has said it will accept a lower offer.

Inflation was running at 7.5% when it submitted the 5% figure to the independent pay review body last March. But inflation has since soared, with RPI standing at 14% in November.

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