Nurses across the UK are set to strike in the first-ever nationwide action over a pay dispute.
The strike vote among more than 300,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) was the largest on record in the union’s 106-year history.
Although the count is still ongoing, it is understood that RCN officials believe that enough members have voted for the winter industrial action which should take place in a few weeks, possibly before Christmas.
RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said: ‘Our strike action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses – we have their support to do this.’
The exact nature of the strike is yet to be determined, but it will likely see patients facing interruptions to operations and appointments when they are already facing record NHS waiting lists.
A union source told the Observer newspaper: ‘This will result in the removal of the majority of services and picket lines across the country.
The RCN said there were a record number of nursing vacancies and in the past year 25,000 UK nurses left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register.
A recent analysis showed that the salary of an experienced nurse has decreased by 20% in real terms since 2010the union said, adding that the goodwill and expertise of nurses is being “exploited” by UK governments.
The NCR is campaigning for a wage increase of 5% above inflation.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt already face the huge challenge of plugging a £50billion hole in public finances.
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Ms Cullen said: “Patients are at great risk when there are not enough nurses.
“A lot of staff – both experienced recruits and new recruits – decide they cannot see a future in a nursing profession that is not valued or treated fairly.”
She added: “As we begin to take action, politicians across the UK will be challenged to support their nursing staff and understand the strength of public support.”
Cabinet Minister Oliver Dowden told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge program on Sunday that the government had contingency plans in place to deal with any strikes by nurses.
“We have well-oiled contingencies in place and the Department of Health knows how we would handle a scenario like this should it occur,” he said.
“We will make sure to prioritize the most essential services – emergency services etc. But of course there would be an impact as a result of a strike like this.
“I would continue to urge nurses and others to resist the strike even though they voted to do so. We have already agreed quite a massive support for nurses.
“Of course, if you are in the situation where you have a large number of nurses on strike, it will of course have an impact, for example, on certain elective surgeries and other activities.