Nurses from the Royal College of Nursing are walking out on strike again from today, as a bitter dispute over pay and working conditions continues.
The walkouts run from 8pm today, 30 April, until midnight on Monday, 1 May, across England.
“We should be in the negotiating room”
Organised by the RCN, one of several unions representing the profession, this strike comes after the union’s membership voted to reject the UK Government’s most recent pay deal.
Speaking earlier this month, RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said the current pay offer of a one-off £1,655-£3,789 payment (depending on banding), and a 5% consolidated (permanent) increase for those on band 2 and above was “simply not enough”.
Unlike previous walkouts this year, the RCN has put no derogations – exempted services or areas – for the latest set of strikes.
This is something health and social secretary Steve Barclay has asked the RCN to reconsider, as it means nurses in critical care and mental health services will also be permitted to withdraw their labour.
The strike beginning today was originally planned to end at 8pm on Tuesday (May 2). A successful High Court bid by Mr Barclay has forced the RCN to cancel the final day, though some NHS staff under union Unite will be striking on the Tuesday after a narrow vote to reject the government’s pay deal on Friday.
Mr Barclay approached the courts after NHS Employers asked the government to intervene on the grounds that the 2 May date fell outside the union’s six-month mandate for strike action.
A hearing at the London High Court on Thursday morning, overseen by Mr Justice Linden, saw government lawyer Andrew Burns KC argue that the RCN had failed to inform its members that it knew the third strike day was unlawful.
The RCN declined to give evidence in court and, instead, submitted a witness statement from Ms Cullen.
Timeline of the the nurse pay dispute with the government
In her statement, the RCN general secretary argued that the explanatory notes of the Trade Union Act were “dangerously misleading and inaccurate”.
She said the union should not be penalised for “deficient” government advice and asked the courts to use its powers of discretion to allow the strike to go ahead.
Mr Justice Linden said RCN’s non-attendance at the hearing was “concerning”, and ruled the 2 May date unlawful.
Ms Cullen, speaking after the hearing, said the ruling was an “indictment” on the government and described the NHS as being “run into the ground”.
“Steve Barclay can continue to threaten them with their registration,” she said, “And he can continue if he wishes to drive them through court proceedings.”
“But what he needs to do is get into a negotiating room, and start to talk to the nurses of England, sort out this dispute and allow them to get back to their work – this is no way to treat them,” she said.
“The full weight of government gave ministers this victory over nursing staff. It is the darkest day of this dispute so far – the government taking its own nurses through the courts in bitterness at their simple expectation of a better pay deal.”
She said nurses will be “angered but not crushed” by the conclusion of the court case, and that her union still plans to re-ballot members next month on a further six-month strike mandate.
“Nobody wants strikes until Christmas,” Ms Cullen added: “We should be in the negotiating room, not the courtroom today.”
Mr Barclay said: “I firmly support the right to take industrial action within the law – but the government could not stand by and let plainly unlawful strike action go ahead.
“Both the NHS and my team tried to resolve this without resorting to legal action, but unfortunately, following a request from NHS Employers, we took this step with regret to protect nurses by ensuring they are not asked to take part in an unlawful strike.
“We welcome the decision of the high court that the Royal College of Nursing’s planned strike on 2 May is illegal.”
Staff at more than 120 NHS trusts in England are eligible to walk out from this evening, as well as those employed directly by national bodies Health Education England, NHS Blood and Transplant, NHS England, and NHS Resolution.
This latest walkout will be the fourth wave since the RCN’s strike ballot at the end of 2022.
Unite is joining the RCN on the picket line in a limited capacity on Monday (1 May) and also striking on 2 May. But other unions are not necessarily following suit. Unison’s membership voted to accept the most recent pay deal for England, and now awaits the meeting of the NHS Staff Council to decide its next steps.
GMB, meanwhile, [CHECK THE RESULT AND ADD THIS IN ONCE THEY’RE IN BEFORE THIS ARTICLE GOES OUT].
As well as the pay deal, nurses say the strike is fueled by anger over short staffing, under-resourcing of the NHS more broadly, and the ever-worsening attrition rate.