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Striking for patient safety

Professor Pat Cullen 13 Oct 2022

RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen updates members on our independent review of the culture of the RCN, NHS strike ballot and how we continue to campaign for safe staffing and fair pay across the UK.

Since my last update to you, we have published our independent review into the culture of the RCN. I want to thank everyone who contributed and reaffirm that I will hold this report close as I redouble efforts to overhaul this College and give members the strong, professional and genuinely representative organisation you deserve.

The release of the report has led to many people feeling their story will be listened to for the first time. If you have information on poor conduct of any kind then I am urging you to share it – contact SafeCall (0800 028 2511) or email Bruce Carr KC directly.

Last week, our biggest ever NHS pay ballot opened across the UK. More than 300,000 of you should have now received your ballot papers. 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. 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. 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.

And while this ballot is only for those members working for the NHS, this is a fight on behalf of the whole of the nursing workforce. Those working outside the NHS deserve at least parity with NHS colleagues. We’ll continue to support our members who work for other health and social care employers to seek appropriate pay and working conditions too.

This week in Wales, we’ve met with the leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price MS (Member of the Senedd), to talk about fair pay and safe staffing. And in Scotland, members took our demands to the Scottish National Party conference and put our case directly to Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care Humza Yousaf outside the conference. And yesterday representatives of the joint health trade unions met Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care Humza Yousaf for discussions about NHS pay. While a significantly improved offer was not forthcoming there is a commitment to continue the negotiations.

And in Northern Ireland, our Board Chair Fiona Devlin and Board member Conor McDowell attended the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) conference last weekend, highlighting with DUP Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) our pay campaign priorities, including the need for a fair pay award, the link between pay and safe nurse staffing, and the need for a fully-functioning Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly in order to address the broader crisis in health and social care services.

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.

This week, we’re also welcoming RCN Representatives from across the UK to Manchester for our first in-person Joint Reps conference since 2019 and the biggest in over a decade. Our reps support thousands of members in workplaces and I am so grateful for all they do. We’re committed to building our rep numbers over the next few years and I will keep you updated as this work progresses.

Finally, October is Black History Month – for us, this is an important opportunity to celebrate the contribution of the Black, Asian and minority ethnic nursing workforce to the RCN and health and care more widely. Visit our website for events you can join this month, wherever you are based in the UK.

Pat Cullen

Professor Pat Cullen

General Secretary and Chief Executive

Pat has worked at the RCN since 2016. Before being appointed General Secretary and Chief Executive, Pat was Director of RCN Northern Ireland from May 2019 to April 2021.

Page last updated - 13/03/2023