Nurses vote to strike across UK in dispute over pay in ‘biggest ever’ industrial action

The national action by RCN members threatens to seriously disrupt NHS care with ambulance staff and junior doctors also in talks to strike over the winter

Nurses across the UK have voted to take strike action over a long-standing pay dispute, in a move that threatens to seriously disrupt an already strained NHS. The strike ballot among more than 300,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) was the biggest in the union’s 106-year history and marks its first national action over pay.

It is understood that nurses at many, but not all, hospitals will stage strikes before Christmas that may continue until May 2023. The RCN has not disclosed how many of its 300,000 members balloted and voted to take industrial action.

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The RCN strike is likely to be the first in further potential action over the winter by different groups of health workers including ambulance staff and junior doctors. It comes after the Government refused to increase its ‘insulting’ offer made in July of a pay increase of at least £1,400 to about a million NHS workers (a rise worth between 4.5% and 5%) sparking widespread anger.

Pat Cullen, the union’s general secretary and chief executive, said: “Anger has become action. Our members are saying enough is enough. [They] will no longer tolerate a financial knife-edge at home and a raw deal at work.”

Ms Cullen called on chancellor Jeremy Hunt to shift his budget in order to come up with a better pay offer and dodge any impending strike action. She added: “Ministers must look in the mirror and ask how long they will put nursing staff through this. While we plan our strike action, next week’s budget is the UK government’s opportunity to signal a new direction with serious investment,” she said.

“This action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses. Standards are falling too low and we have strong public backing for our campaign to raise them.”

Nurses at major hospitals across the UK have voted to strike including St Thomas’ in London, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and University hospital Wales in Cardiff, along with the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

Responding to the government’s NHS pay proposal, the Royal College of Nursing has released a digital billboard message showing the image of a nurse in PPE with the message: ‘Look them in the eyes and tell them they’re only worth an extra £3.50 a week’ outside the Salford Royal hospital.

“Critical services’ such as A&E and emergency surgeries will be prioritised in the event of strikes, NHS bosses have said, although planned operations and outpatient appointments may have to be postponed.