Nurses in England begin two days of strikes in pay standoff | Nursing

Thousands of nurses in England will strike on Wednesday in an escalation of their pay dispute with ministers, bringing disruption to NHS services.

Nurses will stage stoppages lasting up to 13 hours on Wednesday and Thursday, starting at 7.30am and running until 8.30pm, at 55 NHS trusts across England.

The government continues to refuse to talk to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and other health unions about improving the £1,400-a-head pay rise for 2022 to 2023 that it has imposed on NHS staff.

The RCN has demanded a rise of 5% above inflation but made clear it will compromise if Steve Barclay, the health secretary, embarks on detailed pay negotiations.

It announced on Monday that nurses would strike again on 6 and 7 February, this time at 73 trusts in England and also in Wales, if Barclay does not start talking.

Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health service trusts, said: “This industrial action could not be coming at a worse time for the NHS, which faces unprecedented pressure.”

He urged Barclay to get round the table with union leaders to try to end the growing wave of strikes, including by ambulance workers, that are affecting NHS services.

“Health leaders are doing everything they can to keep disruption to a minimum and are eager for a compromise to be reached. This means the government has to be prepared to meaningfully engage with the unions on pay to prevent the strikes in February from going ahead,” he said.

The GMB union will seek to increase the pressure on Barclay on Wednesday by announcing plans for strikes at ambulance services in England and Wales on as many as six more days.

This week’s strikes by nurses are the third and fourth time they have refused to work in pursuit of a better pay offer. They staged their first stoppages on 15 and 20 December. That forced hospitals to cancel about 30,000 outpatient appointments and non-urgent operations.

Hospital bosses, already trying to tackle the 7.2 million-strong backlog of patients in England, are worried that the strikes could become a prolonged campaign of industrial action by the RCN.

One NHS source said: “More places are affected this time, so we do expect more cancellations than we saw with the nurse strikes in December. The real concern is the cumulative impact – the more you cancel, the more you need to find new slots for, and with the real possibility of further strikes and ongoing pressures, that’s not easy to organise.”

Pat Cullen, the RCN’s general secretary and chief executive, said: “Today’s strike action by nursing staff is a modest escalation before a sharp increase in under three weeks from now. If a week is a long time for Rishi Sunak, three weeks is the time he needs to get this resolved.

“People aren’t dying because nurses are striking. Nurses are striking because people are dying. That is how severe things are in the NHS and it is time the prime minister led a fight for its future.”

She pointed to the NHS in England’s record 133,000 staff vacancies, including 47,000 nursing posts, as proof that frontline staff deserve better pay.

Relations between Barclay and the unions appeared to improve after they met last Monday. The ministers said afterwards that he “appreciates competing workforce and cost of living pressures” on NHS staff – the first time he had accepted that soaring inflation has eaten into their real-term incomes.

Barclay said patient care would be disrupted again this week. “Patients will understandably be worried by the prospect of further strike action by nurses. The previous two days of nurse strikes saw around 30,000 elective procedures and outpatient appointments cancelled,” he said.

“It is inevitable industrial action will have an impact on patients. I have had constructive talks with the Royal College of Nursing and other unions about the 2023-24 pay process and look forward to continuing that dialogue.”

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