The UK’s largest nursing union, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), has taken bold action to resolve its ongoing pay dispute with the government by extending its call to action to its members in emergency departments, intensive care units, and cancer care services to participate in the upcoming strike efforts.
In a dramatic move, the RCN is also planning to announce the first-ever continuous 48-hour strike, running for two days and two nights, as opposed to the current 12-hour strikes from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The union has informed NHS leaders and Downing Street of its plans, causing concern among senior officials and ministers.
The RCN aims to break the impasse over pay by ramping up its action while prioritising its legal obligation not to endanger life.
To gain support from its members, the union is also considering increasing the strike benefit paid to its nurses, who currently lose a day’s wage from the NHS during strikes, from £50.
The RCN’s official demand for pay is a 19% rise this year. Still, its general secretary, Pat Cullen, has indicated that she would call off the strikes if ministers agree to discuss matching the 7% offer from the Welsh government, which led to the suspension of strikes in Wales.
To date, the nursing workforce in England has only received an award of 4%, which aligns with the recommendations of the National Health Service (NHS) Pay Review Body.
Despite repeated calls for further consideration, government ministers have remained immutable in their stance, declining to offer additional compensation.
The RCN’s plan to escalate the action aims to get NHS leaders to convince ministers to meet with the unions and discuss pay after months of refusal.
Pat Cullen, the well-respect General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), recently wrote to Rishi Sunak asking for talks but has yet to receive a reply from the Prime Minister.
The RCN also reports that there needs to be more communication with the Department of Health and Social Care.
Soon, the RCN will announce the dates for the next strikes, which will be different from previous actions. The first round of new strikes is expected to occur within two weeks.
Before, the RCN and NHS hospitals agreed on 5,000 exceptions to the strikes at a local level, but these agreements will no longer be in place.
This week, a vote will occur among ambulance workers who are members of Unison. If the vote favours striking, it could lead to further strike actions in ambulance services.
Last week, figures from NHS England suggested that 137,000 appointments have been cancelled since the NHS strikes began last December.
Unison says this could mean as many as 250,000 patients facing delays to appointments by late spring if the government allows the dispute to continue.
Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, said:
“Dialogue can achieve great things. The prime minister should give it a go. Governments elsewhere in the UK have shown it’s good to talk to unions. That’s the only way disputes get resolved.
“Rishi Sunak says his door is open but without an invite to that mythical negotiating table, NHS staff have no choice but to go on striking.”