Pay nurses a ‘decent wage’, RCN urges as it ballots on strike action

The union’s general secretary Pat Cullen said nurses will still provide critical care if the strike goes ahead.

06 October 2022

The only way to prevent nurses leaving the NHS and to fill thousands of vacancies is to pay them a “decent wage”, the head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said as the union ballots on strike action.

For the first time in its 106-year history, the RCN will ask all of its UK members if they are prepared to walk out over pay.

General secretary Pat Cullen said nurses will still provide critical care if the strike goes ahead, as the RCN asks for a pay rise which exceeds inflation by 5%.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Nurses will do nothing to add to the risk that patients are facing every single day as a consequence of not having those nurses in the system to look after them.

“We continue to provide critical services throughout any strike.”

She said nurses are taking action to “save the health service”, adding that they are currently “struggling to provide safe care for their patients” due to a lack of staff.

“Nurses have made every attempt to get Government to listen to the fact that there’s hundreds of thousands of nursing vacancies across this country and nurses are struggling to provide safe care for their patients,” she said.

“The only way that we’re going to address those vacancies and ensure that we recruit nurses into our health services and hold on to the brilliant services that we’ve got is if we pay them a decent wage.

“We’re very clear. Our position is that in order to address the crisis within the profession, it’s (pay of) 5% above the rate of inflation.

“If this Government does not address that, then our fear is that we’ll continue to lose the great nurses we’ve got.

“We’re losing thousands of nurses from our health service and that’s against a backdrop of thousands and thousands of vacancies.”

She added that the Government’s offer of a 3% wage rise “makes a difference to a nurse’s wage of 72p a week”.

She added: “I don’t think that’s the decent thing to do for nursing staff or the decent thing to do for patients.”

Nurses will start voting on Thursday on whether to strike over pay, with 300,000 members asked to take part in the ballot.

The RCN said new analysis by London Economics to coincide with the ballot launch showed that pay for nurses has declined at twice the rate of the private sector in the last decade.

Nurses’ real-terms earnings have fallen by 6% compared with 3.2% for private sector employees, it was found.

The ballot closes on November 2.

The RCN is inviting members of the public to co-sign a letter to Prime Minister Liz Truss which says: “On behalf of the nursing profession, I implore you to see sense. Protect nursing to protect the public.”

Ms Cullen said in a message to those being balloted: “This is a once-in-a-generation chance to improve your pay and combat the staff shortages that put patients at risk.

“Governments have repeatedly neglected the NHS and the value of nursing. We can change this if together we say ‘enough is enough’.”

The RCN said new polling carried out by YouGov showed support from two-thirds of the public for nurses taking strike action, while three-quarters of respondents said there are too few nurses to provide safe care in the NHS.

Health workers in other trade unions are also being balloted for industrial action over pay.

Earlier this year, the Government gave most NHS workers a £1,400 pay rise, well below what unions were calling for.

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