Nursing union warns of further strike action after biggest walkout yet

While some health unions have accepted the government's latest pay offer, those who are striking say they have to keep up their fight, ITV News' Harry Horton reports

NHS services across England faced major disruption on Monday after nurses walked out in a 28-hour strike over pay.

Ending just before midnight, the strike followed a High Court judge ruled it would be unlawful for the industrial action to continue into Tuesday as originally planned.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said the 28-hour nursing strike - which for the first time affected all areas including intensive care - is “premature” and “disrespectful” to other unions.

His remarks came ahead of a meeting on Tuesday of the NHS Staff Council, made up of health unions, employers and government representatives.

The majority of unions are expected to accept the government’s 5% pay offer, but this doesn't mean that other strikes can't go ahead.

General secretary of the Royal College of Nursing Pat Cullen said on Sunday that measures were in place to keep patients safe. Credit: PA

Speaking in the final hours of the Royal College of Nursing's (RCN) strike general secretary Pat Cullen made it clear that her union's dispute with the government has not been settled.

“Deep concerns over patient safety should be aired every day, not only on the day of a strike," she said. “Today was a reminder that our action is always safe and has a belief in safe patient care at its core.

"Nursing staff are fighting for a stronger NHS that has enough nurses – a health service able to fill the tens of thousands of vacant jobs. “The hundreds of nurses I met today at five different hospitals had the energy and determination for the months ahead. The Government must not underestimate their resolve.

Nurses outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham. Credit: PA

"The majority of our members voted to reject the deal and to keep campaigning for something better. “Tuesday’s meeting with Steve Barclay appears a foregone conclusion. Different unions and different professions came to different, but respectable, conclusions on this pay offer. “The deal being accepted by others does not alter the clear fact that nursing staff, as the largest part of the NHS workforce, remain in dispute with the Government over unfair pay and unsafe staffing.”

RCN marched through central London on Monday, coinciding with a strike by Unite's members in Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, who also rejected the 5% offer.

It raised concerns over patient safety, but Ms Cullen said measures were in place to keep patients safe.

The RCN has warned it 'resolve' for further strikes remains high. Credit: PA

Her union initially said it would not agree to derogations – broad areas of care where staffing is guaranteed despite industrial action – but granted some exemptions on Friday in an apparent U-turn.

Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) was among organisations where nurses have agreed to derogations after it voiced “serious concerns” about patient safety during the walkout.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “Unfortunately, nurses decided, as is entirely within their right - they are not obliged to turn up even if we ask the RCN - and unfortunately we weren’t able to get sufficient nurses to cover the intensive care areas, so we had to reduce the capacity significantly and transfer patients out.”

'How am I supposed to live?'

As striking staff lined the steps of London’s University College Hospital, cancer care staff nurse Preya Assi, from Hackney, east London, said: “This is a culmination of our pay not reflecting the hours we are working.

“The last decade has made things considerably worse. Our colleagues are out in force because things have got so bad that we cannot pay our rent or our bills, we are relying on food banks.”

The 36-year-old went on: “We have spent the last few years fighting the pandemic. It matters to us and the care we provide matters to us.

“The fact the government are not looking at our pay has caused us to do this.”

Nurses make up a quarter of NHS staff and are the biggest proportion of the health service workforce.

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