Nurses across the UK have voted to strike before the end of 2022 in a historic ballot.
The Royal College of Nursing [RCN], which represents nearly half a million nurses, has announced the first UK-wide strike in its 106-year history.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, strike action was voted for in every service. In Wales it will take place in all but one health board. However, the turnout was too low in nearly half of NHS trusts in England for a strike to take place.
Nurses at many hospitals and NHS centres are set to take industrial action before Christmas and may continue striking until next May.
Pay is the major issue – nurses have seen their real-term earnings fall by 20% since 2010, according to the latest analysis by London School for Economics, but with the already-depleted NHS stretched to breaking point by Covid, higher demand on services has equated to longer, tougher shifts for staff.
The RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “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.
She added: “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.”
Though the importance of this strike cannot be underestimated, many patients are understandably worried. How will it affect those who need care in the next coming weeks? We have the answers for you.
When are nurses planning to strike?
Currently, the date for the strike has not been announced but industrial action is expected to be held before the end of 2022, and the RCN’s mandate to organise strikes runs until early May 2023, six months after members finished voting.
Where will the strikes take place?
The strikes will affect several areas in the UK. Many of the biggest hospitals in England will see strike action by RCN members, but others narrowly missed the legal turnout thresholds to qualify for action.
All NHS employers in Northern Ireland and Scotland will be included and all bar one in Wales met the relevant legal thresholds.
Guys and St Thomas’ in London, opposite the House of Commons, appears in the list as well as other leading hospitals in capital cities – the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, University Hospital Wales in Cardiff and Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
What will happen to emergency care?
The NHS has said it will treat emergency patients in a “life-preserving care model”, with some sources saying some hospitals on strike days will have staffing levels similar to those over Christmas.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents most NHS organisations, said: “We’re already coping with the gap that exists between the demand that is currently on the health service from the public. We’ve got to meet that demand, and we all know that we are heading into what already is a very difficult winter.”
What about routine operations and appointments?
Some of the most serious cancer cases could still be treated on strike days, and urgent diagnostic procedures and assessments will be staffed if they are needed to gather data on potentially life-threatening conditions or those that could lead to permanent disability.
The strike is affecting hospitals, not surgeries. The RCN says that surgeries are “not NHS employers” in this context – and have reassured people they will not be impacted.
Will other NHS staff be striking, too?
Other health worker unions including Unison and the GMB will announce the result of strike ballots before the end of the month among staff including ambulance drivers and paramedics, hospital porters and cleaners.
Physiotherapists started voting on Monday over industrial action, while a ballot of midwives opens on Friday.