The UK’s health and care system is ‘sailing dangerously close to the wind’ and the conditions nurses are working under ‘feel intolerable’, the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is expected to say during a keynote speech today.
Pat Cullen is set to use her address at this year’s RCN Congress to highlight the ongoing challenges faced by the nursing profession and to provide an update on its continued dispute with the government over the pay of NHS nursing staff.
The RCN will be sending out fresh ballot papers to NHS nurses in England within the next seven days, asking members whether to continue with strike action over pay for up to another six months.
‘If you give the college another six-month mandate for strike action, across the whole of England’s NHS, then government will be forced to act once more,’ Ms Cullen is due to say.
She will also urge the government to ‘get this job finished’ before the 75th birthday of the NHS in July.
The pay deal for NHS staff in England includes a consolidated pay rise of 5% for 2023-24 and a one-off payment of at least £1,644 for 2022-23. This comes on top of the around £1,400 increase that was originally given to NHS staff for 2022/23.
While unions collectively voted to accept this deal, members of the RCN rejected and so the college remains in dispute.
Reflecting on the recent strike action by NHS nurses, Ms Cullen is due to say: ‘This country’s brilliant nursing staff have made your voice heard this last year. I never once met a nurse or support worker who wanted to be on a picket line.
‘Standing outside our work became the only way to change what was happening inside.
‘Patients are not dying because nurses are striking; nurses are striking because our patients are dying. It is as clear as that.’
She will also praise the ‘courage and sheer determination’ of the workforce, which she said had been ‘an inspiration’.
‘Something fundamental has really shifted. Nursing has always had a voice. But this last year we decided to use it in a way that astounded everybody,’ Ms Cullen will add.
‘After years of feeling left behind or unheard; patronised and misunderstood; undervalued and out of sight, we had a message for every single politician in this country: never again dare to believe that you can keep nursing staff quiet.’
Ms Cullen is also expected to raise concerns about the conditions nurses across the whole of the health and social care system are faced with.
‘The health and care system, across the whole of the UK, is sailing dangerously close to the wind right now,’ she is set to say.
‘It is brutally unfair on your patients and the conditions feel intolerable for too many nurses and nursing support workers.’
The Department of Health and Social Care was contacted for comment.