UK nursing unions to announce January strike by Friday unless pay deal is struck

'Clock is running' for prime minister to enter negotiations, says Royal College of Nursing

NHS workers and supporters gather outside Downing Street in London on the second day of strike action by nurses on Tuesday. Getty
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Nurses will announce more strikes after Christmas by the end of the week unless the government agrees to a pay deal, a union chief has said.

The Royal College of Nursing's general secretary Pat Cullen said the “clock is running” for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to enter negotiations after a strike day on Tuesday.

In the 12-hour walkout, the second in less than a week, about 10,000 National Health Service nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland were absent from work, with many joining picket lines to express their concern over pay, staffing levels and patient safety.

“Today, the Prime Minister looked out of step with the country he leads. But he could still make this the last nurse strike of his premiership," Ms Cullen said.

“With the end of today’s strike, a clock is running for the Prime Minister. There are two days for us to meet and begin to turn this around by Christmas.

"By Friday, we will be announcing the dates and hospitals for a strike next month.

“Westminster may be shutting for Christmas tonight but nursing staff are readying for their shifts over the next two weeks and looking at the new year with trepidation.

“We are not looking for a miracle, just the fair pay and recognition that is in the Prime Minister’s gift.”

Nurses strike in the UK - in pictures

The RCN is calling for nurses to be awarded a 5 per cent plus inflation pay rise. The current rate of inflation in the UK is more than 10 per cent.

Nicky Hughes, associate director of nursing at RCN Wales, claimed Health Minister Eluned Morgan had refused calls by the union to enter into negotiations about pay.

Ms Hughes said nurses were prepared to “continue the fight” if no deal was reached, but that discussions were continuing about what the union’s next steps would be.

“We’ve seen such an impact over the day with lots of our members out on the picket lines and members of the public have been so generous and supportive throughout," she said.

"I think we’ve got the public behind us and that’s really important, but we’ve had absolute silence from the Welsh government.

“The Health Minister last asked us to go to a meeting as a trade union on the 12th and yet again there was nothing on the table in terms of a meaningful pay award.

“We’ve asked them constantly to come back and open negotiations, even calling on the First Minister Mark Drakeford yesterday to come to the table and avert today’s strike, but there was just silence.

“The Welsh government says it’s because of the Westminster government. However, in Wales, health is a devolved matter and it’s for the Welsh government to manage and fund appropriately the NHS in Wales.

“Unless they do, we will continue to haemorrhage nurses. As it is, the NHS is on a knife's edge.”

UK nurses walk out for second time threatening further strikes in pay dispute - video

Ms Hughes said further talks with health boards would be needed before any further industrial action, after RCN Wales received reports that wards were being staffed with more nurses than was agreed.

Outside the Heath Hospital in Cardiff, Helen Perriam, a mental health nurse of 10 years, said her family lived “pay cheque to pay cheque” and called for nurses to have a “dignified wage for the responsibilities [they] hold”.

Ms Perriam accused the UK government of exploiting nurses and said the decision not to award a larger pay increase was a political one.

“I would lay the blame with the Tory government in Westminster for not giving Wales enough money to be able to pay nurses fairly," said Georgia Sheppard, an A&E nurse and mother of two.

“I would say to them in Westminster, there’s plenty of money there for the things they want it for, and for their friends who they want to give it to, and the rest of us are losing out.”

British nurses stage first strike in bitter pay dispute with government - video

A Welsh government representative said: “We believe all public sector workers should be fairly rewarded for the important work they do.

“The strikes will inevitably have a significant impact on NHS services. But we recognise the strength of feeling among staff, which the difficult decision to vote for industrial action reflects.

“While we were unable to avert this week’s industrial action, all partners have agreed to keep talking and continue to work together.”

Updated: December 21, 2022, 12:04 AM