A week into the Royal College of Nursing’s strike ballot over pay, its leader has provided an update on the ongoing dispute across the UK and has once again urged members to vote for change.
Chief executive and general secretary Pat Cullen stressed to nurses across the UK that striking was a “powerful tool for change” and that any action would be legal, responsible and put patient safety first.
Her message came within a blog post for the RCN membership, published on Thursday, which also highlighted the publication of a highly damning independent review into the college’s culture.
The 78-page report, released to members on Monday, exposed “division, dysfunction and distrust” throughout the RCN’s senior leadership and laid bare issues of bullying, misogyny and a lack of diversity within its governing council.
The independent investigation by Bruce Carr KC also revealed that the RCN’s annual congress had an “inappropriate sexual culture”, which was “seen by many as an opportunity to engage in sexual activity” and where the “risk of exploitation is significant”.
Ms Cullen, who was appointed on an interim basis in July 2021, has already pledged to “overhaul” the organisation and apologised on behalf of the college. She also said previously that investigations would now follow incidents described in the report.
In her blog post on Thursday, Ms Cullen reaffirmed that she would “hold this report close as I redouble efforts to overhaul this college and give members the strong, professional and genuinely representative organisation you deserve”.
She added that publication of the Carr review had “led to many people feeling their story will be listened to for the first time”.
She urged those with information “on poor conduct of any kind” to share it with Mr Carr directly or via the Safe Call helpline on 08000282511.
The review comes as the RCN continues to ballot NHS nurses across the UK over below-inflation pay awards from the government for 2022-23.
More than 300,000 RCN members should have now received their ballot papers and are being urged to return them by the closing date on Wednesday 2 November.
“While I know taking strike action is not a decision you will come to lightly, we all recognise our profession has been pushed to the edge because of years of underinvestment by governments across the UK,” said Ms Cullen.
She added: “We know patient care is not safe – and not only are patients suffering but nursing staff in all roles are facing burnout and many are choosing to leave the profession for good.”
“Strike action is a last resort but a powerful tool for change,” the RCN leader said in her update this week.
“By voting in this ballot, you are saying enough is enough. We will continue to demand what you deserve – a pay award that overcomes a decade of real-terms pay cuts, supports you through the current cost of living crisis and fairly rewards your safety-critical role.
“Nursing pay must recruit and retain the staff our health and care services need, now and in future,” she said.
In Scotland, health unions met with health and social care secretary Humza Yousaf and deputy first minister John Swinney for discussions about NHS pay on Wednesday, noted Ms Cullen.
Last week, Mr Yousaf said he would put forward a “significantly improved” pay offer for NHS staff and would do everything in his power to avoid strike.
The Scottish Government has said an “increased offer” was put forward to health unions during this meeting.
However, the RCN has said a “significantly improved offer was not forthcoming”, but that there was “a commitment to continue the negotiations”.
The RCN has also this week met with the leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price, member of the Senedd in Wales, to talk about fair pay and safe staffing, said Ms Cullen.
Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, RCN representatives attended the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) conference last weekend and spent time highlighting the college’s fair pay campaign.
Earlier this week, health and social care secretary Thérèse Coffey said she was “not anticipating” that nurses will receive a higher pay offer this year.
Ms Cullen added: “Together we can demand change for our profession and our patients – strike action will at all times be legal, responsible and put patient safety first.
“Make sure you vote as soon as you can – and visit our website if you have any questions.”
Other unions, including the Royal College of Midwives and Unison, are also balloting NHS members over the coming weeks.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We value the hard work of NHS nurses and are working hard to support them – including by giving over one million NHS workers, including nurses, a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year, as recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body.
“NHS staff also received a 3% pay rise last year, increasing nurses’ pay by £1,000 on average despite a public sector pay freeze,” they said.
“Industrial action is a matter for unions, and we urge them to carefully consider the potential impacts on patients,” they added.