The nursing regulator has today released a new statement outlining its position on industrial action, as nurses prepare to cast their votes in upcoming ballots over pay.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council has reiterated that nurses “have the right to take part” in lawful industrial action and that fitness to practise (FtP) action would not be taken against someone “solely on the basis that that they are taking part”.
For those not planning to partake and concerned about making a mistake while a colleague is striking, the NMC assured that its FtP approach takes “account of context when reviewing concerns”.
Meanwhile, eligible students were reminded that if they missed a placement or learning opportunity because of they took part in industrial action, they would be expected to make this time up later in their programme.
The statement comes as unions across the UK, including the Royal College of Nursing and Unison, get ready to carry out indicative ballots of their members over the latest pay awards for NHS staff on Agenda for Change contracts, next month.
Most NHS nurses across England and Wales have been handed a £1,400 increase for the 2022-23 cycle – in line with the NHS Pay Review Body’s recommendations.
Meanwhile, staff in Northern Ireland continue to wait for an official pay award this year. Health minister Robin Swann has confirmed his intention to move in line with the £1,400 increase recommended, but said his hands were currently tied due to budget uncertainties.
Separately, the government in Scotland, which has broken away from the pay review body process, had offered its NHS nurses a 5% rise earlier this year.
The pay awards across the UK are much lower than the inflation-busting rises that unions have been campaigning for and nurses have signalled their appetite for action over the situation in recent weeks.
Today’s statement from the NMC addresses questions about industrial action, including strike, and how this relates to its code of conduct.
The regulator said its key principles remained the same as in statements in previous years, but that it wanted to provide clarity over questions the workforce may have and highlight its latest resources.
It explained that nurses, midwives and nursing associates “have the right to take part in lawful industrial action, including strike” and suggests staff follow the advice of their union.
“Employers will consider the impact of industrial action, putting in place any supportive measures to help minimise disruption”
“Employers will consider the impact of industrial action, including strike action on the care of patients and people using services, putting in place any supportive measures to help minimise disruption,” the regulator added.
In addition, it confirmed that it will “not take fitness to practise action against someone solely on the basis that they are taking part in lawful industrial action”.
But it also reminded staff that its code and standards “always apply”, meaning professionals “should behave in a way that promotes professionalism and trust at all times, including when taking part in industrial action”.
Meanwhile, to those concerned about making a mistake while colleagues are on strike, the NMC said: “We believe the best way to encourage a safe, fair and open nursing and midwifery culture is to take into account how and why something has gone wrong.
“Health and social care settings are complex, so concerns that may appear to be the result of poor individual practice can actually be caused by pressures on the health and care system they work in. That’s why our approach fitness to practice ensures we take account of context when reviewing concerns.”
Some nursing and midwifery students may also have the right to join in industrial action, but individuals should “seek advice” from their union about this, the NMC said.
If a student does take part in industrial action and misses part or all of a planned placement or learning opportunity as a result, they will need to speak to their university about making the time up at a later date.
And to those students concerned about the impact of potential industrial action on their education, the regulator said it expected all its approved education institutions (AEIs) to “assess all risks to your learning”.
“They must tell us if any practice placement environment has been affected, and how they’re mitigating this,” the NMC added.
“For example, if your placement doesn’t have effective support, supervision and assessment because staff are taking industrial action, your AEI has a responsibility to make alternative arrangements and keep you informed.”