Nursing union chief warns strikes could last until end of year

Pat Cullen's remarks come days after RNC rejects latest pay offer

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen has vowed nurses will not turn their backs on patients. PA
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The leader of Britain’s biggest nursing on Sunday warned that nurses could stage regular strikes until December over a long-running pay wrangle.

Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that while there was no plan to co-ordinate strikes with junior doctors, the government needed to put more money on the table to end the dispute.

Her comments came after the RCN announced a 48-hour strike over the first bank holiday next month involving staff in emergency departments, intensive care and cancer care units for the first time.

That followed members’ rejection on Friday of a pay deal of 5 per cent for 2023-24 and a one-off lump sum.

Ms Cullen was interviewed on BBC's Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme. Asked whether she accepted the imminent strikes could put lives at risk, she said nurses would not turn their backs on patients.

Nurses have managed risk every single solitary day for the last 10 years and certainly through the time of this government,” she said. "So the risks are there. They are not just there on the day of strike action.

She said union members had “spoken loud and clear” and expected more money.

“What we are asking the government is not to remove anything that they have put on the table because that would be detrimental to where we are trying to get to. They need to add to it,” added Ms Cullen.

The 5 per cent pay offer and lump sum was accepted by Unison staff on Friday.

Unite and the GMB trade union will announce the result of their ballots on the same deal in two weeks.

Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands said the government was waiting to see if the other trade unions accept the "full and final" pay offer made to nurses.

UK nurses strike again as patients warned of 'inevitable' impact - in pictures

"We think that we've made a fair and reasonable offer," he told the Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme on Sky News.

"It is a full and final offer. But we are waiting for the other results to come in from the other unions.

"It's only reasonable for us during the middle of the balloting process to wait to see those further results and we'll be laying out a response."

In an opinion piece for The Sun, Health Secretary Steve Barclay warned that fresh nurses' strikes would have a "deeply concerning" impact on emergency services and cancer care.

The Health Secretary called on the RCN to accept the Government's pay offer so the NHS can "get back to focusing on patients".

On Sunday afternoon, Mr Barclay tweeted a copy of a letter he had sent to Ms Cullen which urged the union to reconsider further industrial action and said he would welcome a meeting to discuss avoiding strikes.

In the letter, Mr Barclay said the most recent pay offer was a "fair and reasonable settlement", adding: "The decision to refuse at this stage any exemptions for even the most urgent and life-threatening treatment during this action will, I fear, put patients at risk."

Mr Hands said more strikes by nurses would "clearly have an impact" but declined to criticise them for deciding not to provide cover for emergencies.

The Tory Party chairman said: "I think the public are very concerned, understandably, and we will do everything that we can and I'm sure the management of the NHS will do everything that it can to make sure that the impact of the strike is kept under control.

"But I wouldn't be being truthful if I didn't say it will have an impact. Nurses going on strike will clearly have an impact."

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the RCN was in the wrong in its decision not to set up emergency cover.

“I am really worried about it, particularly the decision they have taken to remove derogations, the exemptions they put in place previously around emergency care, cancer care," he said. "I think that’s a real risk to patient safety.

“I hope they don’t feel that escalating in that way is necessary. I really hope they don’t.”

Updated: April 16, 2023, 2:20 PM