The Government has “well-oiled contingencies in place” for a mass strike led by the Royal College of Nursing, the Cabinet Office Minister said on Sunday. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members are veering towards national strike action over pay, and it is thought a strike could take place in the coming weeks.
The result of the ballot has not yet been confirmed, but it is understood it may be the biggest-ever nursing strike.
RCN general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, said swathes of nursing staff across the country feel they are “not valued nor treated fairly” in the profession.
She said on Sunday: “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.”
She added: “Our strike action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses. We have their support in doing this.”
Cabinet Office Minister, Oliver Dowden, said on Sunday morning that the NHS would look to prioritise the most urgent care in the event of a strike, saying the Department of Health “is across how we would deal with a scenario like this”.
He continued on Sky News: “We have well-oiled contingencies in place.”
He then issued an appeal to “nurses and others to resist going out on strike even if they have voted to do so”.
Mr Dowden conceded that a strike would “have an impact, for example, on some elective surgery and other activities”, saying the Government had “already agreed quite considerable support for nurses”.
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A spokesperson for the RCN hit back at Mr Dowden’s comments, replying that both nurses and many members of the public would support national strike action.
They said: “Cutting nurses’ wages by 20 percent since 2010 is the opposite of providing ‘considerable support’ for nurses and the Cabinet Office Minister shouldn’t insult our members by pretending it is.
“The minister appears in denial about both the anger of nursing staff and the public support we have.”
“We value the hard work of NHS staff including nurses, and are working hard to support them – including by 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 three percent last year when pay was frozen in the wider public sector.
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“Industrial action is a matter for unions, and we urge them to carefully consider the potential impacts on patients.”
It is the first strike in which the RCN has balloted all of the organisation’s members for strike action in its history.
It is campaigning for a pay rise for nurses of five percent above inflation.
Several other organisations and unions involved with the NHS are starting proceedings for similar industrial action.