The government must take action to resolve the nursing pay dispute by the NHS’ 75th birthday, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is due to demand.
RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen, at a keynote speech to be delivered later this morning, will urge ministers to “get this job finished” by the health service anniversary on 5 July, to avoid further strikes.
“Patients are not dying because nurses are striking; nurses are striking because our patients are dying”
After its membership voted to reject the government’s latest 2023-24 pay deal last month, the RCN is set to open a new ballot on 23 May, which will run until 23 June .
If passed with a more than 50% turnout, the ballot would give the union a further six-month strike mandate.
Speaking at RCN Congress, Ms Cullen will say that nurses feel their hand has been forced, warning that patients have been dying due to the current issues in the health service.
“I never once met a nurse or support worker who wanted to be on a picket line,” she will say.
“Standing outside our work became the only way to change what was happening inside.
“Patients are not dying because nurses are striking; nurses are striking because our patients are dying. It is as clear as that.
“The health and care system, across the whole of the UK, is sailing dangerously close to the wind right now. It is brutally unfair on your patients and the conditions feel intolerable for too many nurses and nursing support workers.”
Nursing, Ms Cullen is expected to add, has used its voice “in a way that astounded everyone”.
The union leader will now give a strict deadline for the government to “do the right thing” and reopen negotiations.
If the summer nurse strikes go ahead, they could include more people witholding their labour than before. This is because the RCN is seeking an England-wide strike mandate.
This wider mandate would mean members in any NHS trust in the country could go on strike, not just those in specific regions or trusts which voted ‘yes’ on the strike ballot.
Ms Cullen will further say: “Nobody wants to see twice as many nurses take strike action. Or twice as many hospitals affected by a strike.
“Prime minister, you did the right thing to open negotiations with me in February. Before the 75th birthday of the NHS this July, let’s get this job finished.
“Many people I spoke to on picket lines were in tears at how far they had been pushed and never thought striking would be a move nursing would ever make.”
Ms Cullen is also expected to talk about the strikes bill, and accuse the government of attempting to block legal industrial action.
She will say: “And when they lost the public debate, when they lost the confidence of our public sector and other key workers, what did they resort to? A new law to stop you taking strike action.
“A law to threaten you with the sack. It is draconian, unnecessary and vindictive.
“It might be in its final stage in parliament, where we continue to help fight it and even winning some key votes to defeat government, it is simply not worthy of being in the laws of this land.
“If it gets through, I will hold the Labour Party to their word on abolishing it.”
As well as the pay dispute, Ms Cullen’s keynote will touch on the issue of international recruitment and the migration bill.
Ms Cullen will express her disgust at the way migrants are spoken about by the government, and will mention how, as well as the NHS’s anniversary, it will also be the anniversary of the Windrush generation’s arrival this year.
She will say: “Diversity is one of our many strengths as a profession. In this hall alone there will be colleagues who completed their education, and perhaps started their careers, in Africa, in Asia, in the Americas.
“Whether somebody comes to this country ready to work as a highly-skilled nurse, or they arrive as a political refugee from war or persecution, or they simply want a new and prosperous life in the UK, they are beyond welcome.”