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The Epoch Times
The Epoch Times
15 Apr 2023

NextImg:Nurses to Strike Over May Bank Holiday After Union Members Rejected Pay Offer

Nurses in England are set to strike again for 48 hours over the May bank holiday as members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) voted to reject the government’s new pay offer on Friday.

It comes as around 47,000 junior doctors finished their 96-hour strike in a separate dispute over pay at 7 a.m. on Saturday.

RCN members in 130 NHS trusts across England will walk out between 8 p.m. on April 30 and 8 p.m. on May 2. Nursing staff in emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care, and some other services, who were exempt from previous strikes, will join the picket line for the first time.

The union urged the government to reopen talks and bring a “significantly improved offer” to the table.

The pay deal that the government offered to health unions in March  includes a 5 percent pay increase for this year (2023/24), a one-off payment for last year that equals 2 percent of one’s salary, and a one-off “NHS backlog bonus.”

All five unions backed the offer. The RCN, Unison, GMB, and the British Dietetic Association (BDA), recommended their members accept it, while the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) told members the offer was “the most achievable by negotiation with the current government.”

Unison on Friday said just over half of its members (53 percent) voted on the offer, with 74 percent of them (112,458) voting yes.

Commenting on the result, Gorton said “Clearly health workers would have wanted more. … They’ve opted for the certainty of getting the extra cash in their pockets soon.”

She urged the government to make the payments “at the earliest opportunity” and “work with unions to bring about a sustained programme of investment in the workforce.”

Unison’s nursing members in Scotland have previously accepted the Scottish government’s pay offer and talks in Wales and Northern Ireland are still on going.

The RCN on Friday said 54 percent of members who voted opted to reject the deal, with a 61 percent turn out rate.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief executive Pat Cullen joins RCN members on the picket line outside University College Hospital, London, on Jan. 19, 2023. (Stefan Rousseau/PA Media)

In a letter to Health Secretary Steve Barclay, RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “What has been offered to date is simply not enough. The government needs to increase what has already been offered and we will be highly critical of any move to reduce it.

“Until there is a significantly improved offer, we are forced back to the picket line. Meetings alone are not sufficient to prevent strike action and I will require an improved offer as soon as possible. In February, you opened negotiations directly with me and I urge you to do the same now.

“After a historic vote to strike, our members expect a historic pay award.”

The GMB,  BDA, and CSP are still running consultations on the nurses’ pay offer and are expected to announce the results on April 28 and April 29.

Reacting to the ballot results on Twitter, Barclay said he was “pleased” with Unison members’ acceptance of the pay offer, which he said demonstrated the offer is”fair and reasonable.”

He said RCN members’ rejection of the pay deal was “hugely disappointing.”

Claiming the vote was “from a minority of members,” Barclay said the RCN’s decision to escalate strike action to include emergency and intensive care staff is “also hugely concerning.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt told Sky News, “This offer was recommended by the union leaders themselves as being fair and reasonable. They recognised how far the government moved.”

Hunt said, “What the public want is an end to these strikes.”

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, told BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning that the unprecedented move to include emergency and intensive care staff in strikes would “present serious risks and challenges for trust to manage and mitigate that.”

Hartley said the trusts have learned this week that they could manage to cover junior doctor strikes, “but with nursing staff, obviously that represent a significant proportion of the workforce, taking action in those areas as well that will present an unprecedented level of action that we haven’t yet seen from nursing stuff and therefore the challenges with that, the organisation and all the work that go into managing and mitigating that will be enormous,” he said.

Over 50 percent of patients have had appointments cancelled, according to a recent survey by the Patients Association.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the charity, told BBC Breakfast it was frustrating that the government and unions have not been able to find a solution while “every day patients are waiting for treatments.”

Hartley said it’s “extremely worrying” that more appointments will have to be cancelled when nurses strike at the end of the month.

Commenting on concern about patient safety during strikes, Paul Nowak, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” Programme that patients have already been “put at risk every day in our NHS because of the chronic staffing crisis.”

The chief executive of NHS Providers was also worried about nurses and junior doctors going on strike at the same time.

There are also fears that nurses and doctors may go on strike at the same time.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has urged the government to engage in talks over junior doctors’ demands for “pay restoration” to 2008 levels. Ministers have claimed that would amount to a 35 percent pay rise.

File photo of ambulances lined up outside the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, Kent, England. (Gareth Fuller/PA Media)

Asked whether the RCN would consider coordinating industrial action with junior doctors, the union’s director for England Patricia Marquis told BBC’s Newsnight: “That is something that will have to be considered if not least because we are all in the same space. …

“We all work in the same places and therefore there may be an issue where our strikes do at some point either coordinate or overlap in some way as they have done in previous times when we haven’t necessarily coordinated but actually they have knocked alongside other unions in the ambulance service.

“We are having conversations with the BMA, not specifically around coordinating but more to understand what their asks are, what our asks are and also to understand how we can both work in a coordinated way, not necessarily on strike action but really to get the government to understand how just how difficult the situation is for staff in the NHS and the impact it’s having on patients every single day.”

PA Media contributed to this report.