Nurses and midwives are being warned they face risking their registration if they choose to take strike action.
As unions up and down the country weigh up whether to ballot members over pension reforms, the stark warning from the head of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has prompted a fightback from nursing organisations.
Professor Dickon-Weir Hughes said that while the NMC recognises a nurse's democratic right "to express support for their trade unions and to lobby on a wide range of issues…this must never be at the expense of the people they are caring for."
"In considering how to respond to calls for industrial action, nurses and midwives must ensure that their actions do not jeopardise good standards of care," he said.
"They will need to consider very carefully the impact of their actions on the people receiving their care."
"Nurses and midwives are reminded that their registration could be at risk if they fail to comply with the code [Standards of conduct, performance and ethics for nurses and midwives]."
Weir-Hughes' comments come as large numbers of elective operations and outpatient clinic appointments were cancelled as Northern Ireland health and social care workers commenced strike action this week (5 October).
In response to the NMC, the Executive Director of Nursing and Service Delivery for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Janet Davies said "no nurse would ever take a decision on industrial action lightly".
She did however note that nurses and healthcare assistants "are increasingly angry" and deemed the government's proposals on NHS pensions as "unfair" and "unnecessary".
Cathy Warwick, General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) voiced her surprise over the timing of the NMC's comments as the "majority of nurses and midwives are not considering industrial action."
"The RCM is not balloting its members on industrial action, but if this was ever the case, they would of course ensure that no mothers or babies were put at risk by any action," said Warwick.
"Currently midwives are working under severe pressure, yet still managing to deliver high quality care. However, they cannot be expected to continue to do this in the face of threats to their pay and pensions and not take any action at all."
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"I'm in total agreement here. Brilliantly put.
www.nursingtimesjobs.com/jobs/midwifery/" - Izzy P, London
"Yes I think they are right to cancel non-urgent operations. I agree with all the above comments. A nurse's job is a very physical job and often involves moving and transferring of patients along with all the other care provided. Historically many nurses suffer from back strain and pain, and in many cases continue to work despite this as they do not want to let
the patients down. It is totally unrealistic to expect nurses to work to the retirement ages which the government is expecting. Give us a break, and a bit of compassion would not go amiss. I have never been so disgusted with a government in my whole life. The morale of nurses at the moment have reached an all time low" - Anne, Paisley
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