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New Royal College of Nursing ballot results give clearest sign yet of strike action by nursing staff across the UK

Press Release 12/08/2022

A ballot of Royal College of Nursing members in Scotland has shown the majority are willing to take part in strike action  with the RCN saying the results are the clearest sign yet that industrial action could take place across the UK later this year. 

The number of members voting more than doubled compared to 2021 and would exceed the legal threshold on turnout to allow nursing staff to take industrial action.

In the indicative ballot of RCN members working for the NHS in Scotland over 90% voted to reject the Scottish Government’s pay offer. It asked members to indicate their willingness to take part in industrial action with a majority voting in favour of taking strike action. 

The vote in Scotland was the first NHS ballot the RCN has run this year and the College expects similar high turnouts and results in the rest of the UK. A statutory ballot will open on 15 September for hundreds of thousands of nursing staff in England and Wales, with Scottish members now being added too.

If members support strike action, as urged by the College, it will be the first ever strike by RCN members in England, Wales or Scotland. RCN members went on strike for the first time in Northern Ireland in 2019.  

The College has called for a fully funded pay rise for nursing staff of 5% above inflation, which is currently 11.8%, but pay awards have been well below this.

In Northern Ireland, a formal pay announcement is still awaited.

The College is asking its members to urgently check that it has their up-to-date home addresses and employer details so they are eligible to take part in the postal ballot.  

Pat Cullen, RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive, said:  

“The tide is turning and this is a sign of what’s to come in the rest of the UK. It is the clearest signal yet that industrial action is on the cards this year.

“I’m talking to nursing staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and they are just as angry and determined as their Scottish counterparts. I am expecting these figures to be replicated at the very least in the next ballots.

“Nursing staff have been neglected for too long and the workforce crisis ignored. They are seeing the NHS increasingly close to collapse and the safety of their patients put at risk. They are saying enough is enough.

“A lifetime of service must never mean a lifetime of poverty but - with inflation soaring and after a decade of real-terms pay cuts - there are nursing staff struggling to feed their families, look after their children and keep a roof over their heads.

“Industrial strike action should always be a last resort but too many nursing staff are leaving the profession because they cannot afford to be a nurse. This is creating staff shortages that are putting patient safety at risk, and the government’s failure to listen has left us with no choice.”

Carol Popplestone, Chair of RCN Council, said:  

“Our members are facing soaring bills and feeling fearful at how they will provide for their family as the cost of living soars.

“The Government has made it extremely difficult to take legal strike action but today’s figures give us confidence we are able to satisfy the legal demands and take the action that is needed.

“The vote of our members in the upcoming ballot will be essential to turning the tide on low pay.”  

Ends

Notes to Editors  

The RCN Scotland’s pay ballot ran from 12 July to 4 August. RCN members working in the NHS in Scotland were asked about the acceptability of the 2022-23 pay offer from Scottish government and whether they would be willing to participate in industrial action in response to the pay offer, if the majority of members vote to reject the offer.

The RCN’s ‘Staffing levels 2022 – tell about your last shift at work’ survey took place in March 2022. The survey received 20,325 responses from all nursing and midwifery staff working in different settings across the UK. Respondents were asked to report on the staffing levels on their last shift and the impact this had on patient care. Read the full report on the survey here

A YouGov survey released on July 21 showed that 60% of the public either strongly or somewhat support nurses taking industrial action, versus 32% that either strongly or somewhat oppose. The full data set and story is available on YouGov's website here.  

A report from the Health and Social Care Committee last month (July 25) laid bare the nursing workforce crisis. Evidence submitted to the Committee found a significant lack of transparency on workforce planning and that 475,000 jobs will be needed in health and an extra 490,000 jobs in social care by the early part of the next decade just to keep up with patient need. On pay the Committee said it is unacceptable that some NHS nurses are struggling to feed their families, pay their rent, and travel to work. It recommended that nursing staff should be given a pay rise that takes account of the cost-of-living crisis. Read the full report here.

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