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The News Line: News NURSES READY TO STRIKE OVER PAY–BALLOT SHOWS THE VAST majority of nurses are prepared to strike over pay, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned yesterday as it announced a ‘summer of protest’.


Over 50,000 RCN members voted in the pay poll that was launched in late April. Nine in ten (91%) said they would support industrial action short of a strike and four in five (78%) said they were prepared to go on strike. The RCN will not launch an immediate formal ballot. The chair of the elected Council of the RCN announced yesterday morning that there will be a ‘summer of protest activity’ in the NHS across the UK.

But unless the next government drops the one per cent cap on pay – which has left nursing staff with a 14% real terms pay cut since 2010 – the RCN will ballot on industrial action later this year without a further poll of its members, the union warned. The poll closed on Sunday 7th May after three weeks and nursing staff were contacted by email, post, social media and text message. The final turnout was 52,434 of the 270,000 RCN members working in the NHS.

Michael Brown, Chair of the RCN Council, said: ‘Our members have given us the very clear message that they can’t and won’t take any more. This is an unprecedented show of anger and frustration over the government’s pay policy. Politicians must now listen and tell us what they will do about nursing pay. It’s a message to all parties that the crisis in nursing recruitment must be put centre stage in this election.

‘We’re demanding answers on behalf of our patients as well as nursing staff. If we don’t stand up now, how can we guarantee their future safety and wellbeing? ‘The RCN has never gone on strike before, so balloting our members would be a very significant step. We’ve heard from members that they want to send a much tougher message to government which is why we will be leading them in a summer of protest activity.

‘They have been clear that if the next government doesn’t respond and lift the unreasonable cap on nursing pay, they want us to ballot on industrial action. It would be the first time RCN members came out and took industrial action in our 100-year history.’ Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the RCN, said: ‘What’s happened today is unprecedented for the RCN and is a reflection of the deep anger members feel. The current conditions in the NHS are driving people out of the profession and putting new people off entering it.

‘Our argument is not with patients – this is about ensuring that they get the safe and effective care they need. The 1% cap on nursing pay is putting patient care at risk. It’s not just the RCN saying this – we heard from NHS trust leaders last week that if nursing staff aren’t paid a proper wage, they won’t be able to keep patients safe. The next government must tell us what they’re going to do about nursing pay to stop the nurse staffing crisis.’

Calling for the rest of the UK to follow the example of Wales and enshrine safe staffing in law, the RCN reported on the eve of its annual conference yesterday that a dangerous set of pressures is putting patient safety at risk. New figures released by the RCN show approximately 40,000 unfilled nurse posts in England, with 12,000 more health care support worker vacancies. Mental health and community care are experiencing the greatest shortages.

Care providers are increasingly hiring fewer registered nursing staff and the RCN is warning that this move leaves the Westminster government open to the accusation of offering ‘nursing on the cheap’. Separate research in all four UK countries, shows four in five NHS nursing directors are worried that their hospital relies on the goodwill of staff to keep services running.

The RCN is warning there are not enough registered nurses and health care support workers in the system to provide the care that patients need and, most importantly, that the NHS already has funding for. Commenting on the result of the RCN survey about pay restraint Jon Skewes the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) director of policy, employment relations and communications said: ‘Back in 2014 we took the historic decision to take industrial action for the first time in our 134-year history. The RCM took a leading role in that dispute and the historic scenes of midwives and maternity support workers on the picket lines was a pivotal step in winning the dispute.’
 
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