Nurses will start to strike longer, in more places and disrupt more National Health Service services from next month unless the government increases its wage offer, hospital chiefs have said.
Tens of thousands of outpatient appointments and non-urgent operations were canceled on Thursday as nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland went on strike over pay.
A second 12-hour strike will take place next Tuesday at dozens of hospitals, mental health units and specialized care providers, such as children’s hospitals.
NHS Employers, which represents all health funds in England under staff terms and conditions, has told its members that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is likely to widen and intensify its planned strike campaign unless ministers agree to negotiate a new wage deal.
The RCN called members to strike on Thursday in only half the number of trusts in which the majority of nurses in their recent UK-wide strike vote voted to stop working.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, wrote to the trusts on Wednesday after holding talks with the RCN over the dispute. He reminded them that the RCN’s decision not to hit all the care providers that he could have done only applied to the action on Thursday and next Tuesday.
“Unless the government indicates its willingness to negotiate on issues related to wages, the RCN will announce further strike dates for January 2023 and beyond. These strikes are likely to be for a longer period of time each time and involve a larger number of organizations. [NHS trusts] in England,” he said. “It is also likely that the position reached yesterday on exceptions will be modified and further reduced. It is also probable that it will be voted again.
The derogations are exemptions from the strike that the RCN agrees to implement to ensure that services involving the provision of life-threatening care can continue. He agreed to extend the list of exemptions for Thursday and next Tuesday after pressure from NHS bosses.
Mortimer’s intervention adds to the increasing pressure on Rishi Sunak and health secretary Steve Barclay to withdraw his refusal to enter into detailed discussions with the RCN on nurses’ pay. Both have insisted they cannot increase their offer of a £1,400 raise for most NHS staff this year because they are bound by the advice of the NHS pay review body.
Ruth May, England’s director of nursing and a major figure in England’s NHS, made it clear on Thursday that she wanted ministers to reach an urgent deal with the RCN to end the strikes.
Eleanor Hayward, the Times health correspondent, tweeted a photo of May on the RCN picket line outside St Thomas’s hospital in London, writing: “She [May] says he supports the striking nurses and that ministers must come to an ‘urgent resolution’ with the nurses’ union on pay”.
There is growing concern among Conservative MPs over Barclay’s refusal to speak on the revised £1,400 per person figure. Steve Brine, a former health minister who now chairs the House of Commons health select committee, said on Monday that in light of the RCN’s offer to postpone the strikes if Barclay agreed to talk about wages, the position of the secretary for health meant that it was “1-0 for the RCN” in the battle for public sympathy.
On Thursday, two other former Conservative ministers, Jake Berry, until recently chairman of the Conservative party, and Dr Dan Poulter, a former health minister who is also an NHS doctor, urged Barclay to rethink. Poulter said the RCN’s demand for a 5% increase above inflation was “unrealistic” but said the government should “improve the current offer on the table for nurses” because there was a “good economic case”. to do it.
He said: “Stripping wages well below the rate of inflation will encourage more NHS staff to work fewer contracted hours and to work as expensive agency or locum staff or leave the NHS to work elsewhere, perhaps for care providers private healthcare, which cost the NHS money.
Meanwhile, a senior NHS leader said the ambulance strike due to take place next Wednesday represented a much more direct threat to patient safety than the action by nurses on Thursday.
Sir Jim Mackey, director of elective recovery for England’s NHS, told an event at the King’s Fund health think tank: “The ambulance strike is a completely different order of magnitude of risk.” [then the nurses’ strike]. I think that’s the main thing people are concerned about, because of the complexity and fragility of urgent care.”