A nurses’ strike will not put patients in more danger than they already are, a union boss has said, despite claims that thousands of NHS operations could be canceled if there is a strike.
Some 300,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will be asked on Thursday if they want to mount an industrial action campaign in the union’s first UK-wide vote.
The union is encouraging members to vote to strike and general secretary Pat Cullen said nurses will continue to provide critical care if the strike goes ahead.
She said: “Nurses will do nothing to increase the risk that patients face every day as a consequence of not having those nurses in the system to care for them.”
“I had the privilege of leading the first nurses’ strike in Northern Ireland in 103 years. That was done in a very safe, very effective and totally professional way, and that didn’t put any patients at greater risk.
“We had very clear protocols on how to organize it. There is nothing in our profession where we put down the tools and walk off the wards or leave our patients in the community.
“We continue to provide critical services during any strike.” He added that they were potentially taking steps to “save the health service.”
It is the first time in its 106-year history that The RCN has voted members across the UK into strike actiony urges them to vote in favour. The ballot lasts for four weeks and closes on November 2.
Any action of the RCN will follow the “life preservation care model”, that is, emergency and emergency and intensive care nurses would be exempt from participating.
Community nurses who provide life-saving medication would also be exempt from the strike.
Elective procedures could be delayed or canceled
But The Telegraph understands that OR nurses who attend during scheduled surgeries would not be exempt under this model, meaning elective procedures could be delayed or canceled if the strike continues.
It is understood that the level of treatment provided by nurses will be based on patient need and risk to life, rather than system convenience.
Around 6.8 million patients are currently waiting to start treatment on the NHSthe highest on record, while 15 million patients undergo elective treatments a year in England.
Health sources said plans will be put in place to cover any striking staff to ensure patients still get the care they need.
The RCN said new analysis by London Economics to coincide with the ballot’s launch showed pay for nurses falling at twice the rate of the private sector over the past decade.
Real-term earnings for nurses were found to have fallen by 6 per cent compared to 3.2 per cent for private sector employees.
At the beginning of this year, the government gave most NHS workers a pay rise of £1,400far below what the unions had been asking for.
Pat Cullen, general secretary of RCN, said in a message to voters: “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve your pay and combat 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’”.