Nurses’ strikes could continue until Christmas, union leader says

The government says it has made its 'full and final' pay offer to nurses - but the RCN says staff deserve more, as Harry Horton reports

Nurses could strike until Christmas if they cannot reach a deal with the government, a union leader has warned.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) leader Pat Cullen told ITV News the government must improve its pay offer to avoid further strikes - although nurses will come off picket lines to deal with emergencies.

The RCN announced on Friday that its members will walk out for 48 hours from 8pm on April 30 after rejecting the government’s pay offer.

NHS nurses in emergency departments, intensive care and cancer wards will take industrial action for the first time.

Pat Cullen doesn't rule out regular strike action for the rest of the year

When asked when the union will stop strike action, Ms Cullen told ITV News: "We have another strike now at the end of this month and beginning of May.

"We will immediately move now to re-ballot our members in June, and if that ballot is successful then those strikes will last to Christmas.

"But, again, what I would say - and I would make a plea to government this morning - let's bring an end to this by getting around the table, as we've done before, and let's put more money on the table and bring these strikes to an end."

On coordinating strikes with doctors with the British Medical Association (BMA), she repeatedly said there are "no plans" for joining up action - but she did not clearly rule them out.

"Doctors and nurses work side by side on every single shift," she said. "So they understand the pressures that both are under here trying to care for their patients, but we have no plans to coordinate strikes with the BMA.

"What I will say - if this government continues to allow doctors and nurses to stay on strike and on picket lines then inevitably patients will feel the impact of that as time moves on."

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

In an opinion piece for The Sun, Health Secretary Steve Barclay warned that fresh nurses’ strikes would have a “deeply concerning” impact on emergency services and cancer care.

The Health Secretary called on the RCN to accept the government’s pay offer so the NHS can “get back to focusing on patients”.

Ms Cullen confirmed she had received a letter from Mr Barclay on Sunday morning.

In the letter Health Secretary Steve Barclay urged Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union leader Pat Cullen to reconsider industrial action across 48 hours in April and May and said he would welcome a meeting to discuss avoiding strikes.

He said in the letter: “After you recommended the deal be accepted, I am disappointed that given the turnout, a rejection from less than half of your members was sufficient for a narrow rejection overall.”

On Friday, Unison’s NHS members accepted the NHS pay offer of a 5% pay rise this year and a cash payment for last year. However, 54% of RCN members voted to reject the deal.

The turnout among RCN members employed on NHS Agenda for Change contracts in England was 61%.

The RCN announcement came as around 47,000 junior doctors finished their 96-hour strike in a separate dispute over pay at 7am on Saturday.

'We are concerned'

Tory Party chairman Greg Hands said he is "concerned" by the prospect of strike action continuing regularly until the end of the year.

Mr Hands told ITV News: “We are concerned about the impact on the patients and on the public. We don't think that is the right thing to be doing, instead I ask everyone to look at the actual financials of this offer.

"Look at the pounds being paid, not just the percentages, but the £5,1000 extra per annum for a band 5, ward-level nurse is a really, really strong offer, including £2,000 to be paid by the summer as a one-off payment.

"That is a really strong, reasonable, fair offer - fair to nurses, fair to NHS staff, and fair to the taxpayer as well."

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