The Royal College of Nursing has defended its decision to host strikes without exemptions, following warnings from mental health leaders that the action “will have dire consequences for patients”.
This comes after the RCN announced last week that further nursing strikes would take place in England after members voted to reject the latest NHS pay offer from the government.
“Employers already make difficult staffing arrangements work on most days”
The college is now set to hold a 48-hour strike from 8pm on 30 April to 8pm on 2 May.
National exemptions, known as derogations, were in place in previous recent strikes by the RCN in areas such as intensive care and chemotherapy services.
In December, the college agreed to extend the derogations to other areas including mental health services following an intervention by the UK’s four chief nursing officers (CNOs).
However, in its escalation of strike action from the college, the next wave of strikes will not include any derogations, meaning nurses working in previously exempt services will be able to take to the picket lines for the first time.
But today the NHS Confederation’s mental health network, which represents providers from across the country, has called on the RCN to once again make mental health services exempt from industrial action.
In a statement, the network said that mental health trust leaders had warned of “dire consequences to the safety of patients” as nursing staff numbers were set to be spread more thinly than usual.
It added that if the RCN refused to have derogations, and did not agree to exempt high security and inpatient mental units, then risks to service users “cannot be mitigated against”.
“The impact could mean that people become a risk to themselves including by self-harming or in extreme cases taking their own lives, as well as to others,” said the NHS Confederation’s mental health network.
It added: “When it comes to inpatient services mental health leaders are worried about the need to rapidly increase staff numbers in order to respond quickly to differing levels of patient risk.”
Defending its position, an RCN spokesperson said that the union had given the NHS and the government two weeks to plan for the strikes, noting that it was “the responsibility of the employer to maintain safe staffing levels”.
“We urge the RCN to reconsider its stance on derogations in this latest round of strike action”
They said: “There will be nurses working those days but we are asking the NHS to run what services it can safely without our members while they take legal action.
“We know this is a difficult task and there are exceptional circumstances where we would call it off in any hospital.
“But we must remember employers already make difficult staffing arrangements work on most days.”
They explained that nurses were constantly having to “make do with too little staff and not enough beds”.
“This level of pressure can’t go on any longer,” the spokesperson said.
However, Sean Duggan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s mental health network, and a former mental health nurse, said: “We urge the RCN to reconsider its stance on derogations in this latest round of strike action.
“In particular, high secure and inpatient mental health services, as well as emergency departments, and critical care must be considered as life and limb services and therefore nursing provision must be granted in these areas.
“Unless these areas are made exempt by the RCN for the upcoming strikes, as they have been up until this point, patient safety will be put at direct risk.”