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Nurses' pay has fallen twice as much as private sector pay, union reveals as first UK-wide strike ballot of NHS nursing staff opens

Press Release 06/10/2022

Three hundred thousand NHS nursing staff across the UK will begin voting from today (Thursday) on whether to take strike action in the first UK-wide ballot by the Royal College of Nursing.

New analysis by London Economics to coincide with the ballot launch shows pay for nurses has declined at twice the rate of the private sector in the last decade. Nurses’ real terms earnings have fallen by 6% compared to 3.2% for private sector employees. 

This year’s NHS pay awards around the UK failed to match the rising cost of living or meet the RCN’s expectation of an announcement 5% above inflation. 

This is the first time in its 106-year history that the RCN has balloted members across the UK on strike action and it is urging them to vote in favour. The ballot closes on 2 November. 

The College is inviting members of the public to co-sign a letter to the Prime Minister from RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen which says: “On behalf of the nursing profession, I implore you to see sense. Protect nursing to protect the public.” 

In a direct message today to all those set to receive ballot papers, Mrs Cullen writes: 

“This is a once in a generation chance to improve your pay and combat the staff shortages that put patients at risk.  

“Governments have repeatedly neglected the NHS and the value of nursing. We can change this if together we say ‘enough is enough’. 

“Record numbers are feeling no alternative but to quit and patients pay a heavy price. We are doing this for them too. 

“I have spoken with hundreds of you directly in recent weeks – it’s clear we need urgent change.  

“Nursing is the best job in the world. Protect it with your vote.” 

New polling carried out by YouGov shows consistent support from two-thirds of the British public (65%) for nurses taking strike action. In the same poll, three quarters (75%) of respondents said there are too few nurses to provide safe care in the NHS. 


Notes to editors

The letter to the Prime Minister can be found here and through  

New analysis from London Economics shows: Overall, between 2011 to 2021, median weekly pay for nurses decreased by 6% in real terms. This decline is significantly larger than the real decrease in median earnings across all employees in the UK (4.6%).  

London Economics also compared the evolution of real nurse pay to median pay among UK private sector employees overall. Real earnings among all private sector employees declined by 3.2% between 2011 and 2021; again, the corresponding decline among nurses was much larger (standing at 6%). Additionally, between 2013 and 2018 real private sector pay fell by only 0.2% (i.e. remained almost unchanged), whereas nurses’ pay declined by 8.3%.   

The analysis is based on data from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings for all full-time nurses (i.e., private and public sector nurses) and uses RPI inflation.

Polling from YouGov was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (18+). Total sample size was 1,791 GB adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22 - 23 September 2022. 

  • Nearly two-thirds of the British public (65%) support nurses in taking strike action.
  • Three quarters (75%) of respondents said there are too few nurses to provide safe care.  

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