The UK Government is set to take the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to court over its planned NHS strike action on Tuesday 2 May, it has been announced.
In a statement last night, health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said he was ‘regretfully’ applying to the High Court to declare the RCN’s plans for strikes on that day as ‘unlawful’.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Pat Cullen said the move from the government was ‘wrong and indefensible’ but confirmed that if the court ruled to stop the strike, then the college would have ‘no choice’ but to cut its plans short.
The situation stems from concerns first raised by NHS Employers last week, which claimed the six-month period in which industrial action can be taken by the RCN expires at midnight on 1 May and therefore its planned strike on 2 May would be unlawful.
The RCN first gained its six-month mandate for strike action by NHS nursing staff over pay last year. The strike ballot, of which the upcoming action relates to, had closed at midday on 2 November 2022.
A 48-hour NHS nursing strike in England, lasting from 8pm on 30 April to 8pm on 2 May, was announced by the RCN earlier this month after its members rejected a new pay offer from the government.
Health secretary Mr Barclay has now said that, following a request from NHS Employers, he was ‘regretfully applying to the High Court to declare the Royal College of Nursing’s planned strike action on 2 May unlawful’.
Later this week, the court will decide whether to support the government’s case and whether the RCN’s timetable for strike action will need to change.
‘Despite attempts by my officials to resolve the situation over the weekend, I have been left with no choice but to proceed with legal action,’ said Mr Barclay.
‘I firmly support the right to take industrial action within the law – but the government cannot stand by and let a plainly unlawful strike action go ahead nor ignore the request of NHS Employers.
‘We must also protect nurses by ensuring they are not asked to take part in an unlawful strike.’
In response, the RCN’s chief executive stressed she had told the government the move was ‘wrong and indefensible’.
‘The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them – including in court,’ said Ms Cullen.
She added: ‘If the government succeeds in silencing members like you and convinces the court to stop part of our strike, then we’ll have no choice but to cut it short.
‘Our strike action has always been safe and legal. We would never ask our members to do anything unsafe or against your professional code.’
Ms Cullen stressed it was ‘so wrong for the government to use taxpayers’ money to drag our profession through the courts’.
The RCN is also preparing to ballot members next month on a second six-month strike mandate from June to December 2023.