The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has voted to take strike action across the UK for the first time in the union’s history. Members will be striking to fight against worsening pay and conditions, as the latest union to take action in this year’s wave of strikes.
Staff voted successfully for action in 130 English NHS hospitals, trusts, or boards; all but one in Wales, and all in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
These results are not surprising, considering the immense pressures nurses face working in an NHS that is poorly staffed, poorly funded, and poorly organised. Such issues are to be expected under a Tory party that followed a policy of austerity, and lies in bed with the private medical companies.
In fact, today’s NHS is suffering the worst waiting times since records began. Over 400,000 patients in England were waiting over 52 weeks – an entire year – to begin treatment at the end of September.
Due to these conditions, we are seeing a record number of nurses quitting the NHS. 40,000 nurses left in the last year in England alone.
Then there is the pay. Nurses in England and Wales have been offered a 4.75% increase in pay – a pay cut when accounting for the current rate of inflation. After initially being offered 5%, Scottish nurses were then offered an 8% rise. This, however, is still a real-terms pay cut.
RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen called the vote “a defining moment in our history, and our fight will continue through strike action and beyond for as long as it takes to win justice for the nursing profession and our patients.
“Anger has become action – our members are saying enough is enough. The voice of nursing in the UK is strong and I will make sure it is heard. Our members will no longer tolerate a financial knife-edge at home and a raw deal at work.
“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. Across the country, politicians have the power to stop this now and at any point.
“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. This winter, we are asking the public to show nursing staff you are with us.”
Following the announcement, the government’s Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, met with the RCN. The union said of this on social media: “Today’s meeting with Steve Barclay was a cordial introduction that covered many important, broad topics. We await a future meeting to address the specifics of our dispute and the reality that our members have voted to strike”.
More details will be announced soon, with strike action expected to begin by the end of the year
Mia English, is the News Editor of Challenge