The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has announced the dates for a new industrial action ballot of members working in the NHS in England.
Unlike the RCN’s previous industrial action mandate, which was for individual trusts to strike, the college is now seeking a country-wide mandate through an aggregated ballot.
The ballot – which will include all members in England on Agenda for Change contracts – will open on Tuesday 23 May and close on Friday 23 June.
If 50% of all eligible members vote and the majority say ‘yes’ to industrial action, this would give the union a mandate to strike in every NHS trust in England where RCN members are employed.
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 £1,655 for 2022-23. This comes on top of the around £1,400 increase that was originally given to NHS staff for 2022/23.
Despite members of the RCN and Unite voting to reject the pay offer, health secretary Steve Barclay has announced that the deal will be imposed after a majority of unions voted to accept.
In an email to members yesterday, RCN chief executive and general secretary Pat Cullen said that nurses could ‘force the government back to the negotiating table and to make an improved pay offer’.
Ms Cullen added that: ‘The government has tried to turn people against us by saying strikes are unsafe. But it’s their failure to invest in nursing that has made our wards unsafe.’
Since last December the RCN has taken industrial action in England across several days at individual NHS employers. However, only the most recent strike was taken without derogations to allow nurses in emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other critical services to continue working.
The news comes as Ms Cullen faced questions from the Health and Social Care Committee about the ongoing pay dispute on Tuesday afternoon.
Conservative MP and committee chair, Steve Brine, asked Ms Cullen whether – given that only 54% of members recently voted to reject the pay offer – she was ‘hopeful’ that the industrial action ballot would pass.
Ms Cullen replied that this would be ‘entirely up to our members’.
However, she added that nurses ‘feel a desperation for someone to listen to them’.
‘If the only way they can get listened to is through industrial action, then I would suggest that that may be the only case,’ said Ms Cullen.
During the meeting, Conservative MP Paul Bristow also suggested that it was the RCN’s ‘excessive pay demand’ of 19% which contributed to the rejection of ‘a very reasonable 5%’.
While Ms Cullen denied that she had ever called for a pay rise of 19%, she told the committee that ‘I think our members are entitled to 19%’.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We hugely value the work of nurses, and it is hugely disappointing the RCN is balloting for industrial action.
‘Any further strikes will put more pressure on the NHS and will be incredibly disruptive for patients.’
They added: ‘The majority of unions on the NHS Staff Council voted to accept the government’s fair and reasonable pay offer.
‘We hope RCN members recognise this as a fair outcome and decide it is time to bring industrial action to an end.’