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England strike ballot opens as RCN leader meets health secretary

23 May 2023

Members working for the NHS in England are urged to vote ‘yes’ to strike action as we pressure ministers to improve the pay award for nursing staff.

Female nurse holds banner reading 'Vote to strike'. Behind her is a big yellow X

Our ballot of members working on Agenda for Change contracts in England opens today. It asks whether they’re prepared to take strike action – fully withdrawing their labour – in response to the NHS pay award the UK government is implementing for 2022/23 and 2023/24. 

It comes after members rejected the award in April following six days of strike action. A further 28-hour strike was held on 30 April with minimal derogations (exemptions from strike action), but the government has so far refused to negotiate further. 

Today, as our ballot opens, RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen will meet with Health Secretary Steve Barclay. Ahead of this meeting, she said: “This is unfinished business and the government can resolve it without the need for more strike action. The government has insisted they are not going to negotiate, but they’re mistaken if they think we’ll back down. Our members are rightly angry that the Health Secretary has ignored their rejection of the pay award. They’re demanding more and they deserve more. 

“They need a pay award that’s going to help fix the nursing workforce crisis. One that will attract new people to our profession and prevent experienced nurses leaving in their droves. Every day, patients are at risk due to chronic staff shortages. The government has tried to turn people against us by saying strikes are unsafe. But in reality, the only thing that’s made patients unsafe is its failure to invest in the NHS. Record waiting lists, people left for hours in A&E, staff forced to treat patients in corridors – it’s all been caused by tens of thousands of nursing vacancies, not by our strikes.”

Unlike the strike ballot we ran last year, this ballot will be “aggregated” meaning the legal threshold that must be met to stage strike action applies just once to the entire voting membership (those working on Agenda for Change contracts in England), as opposed to per NHS employer. 

To achieve a country-wide mandate for strike action, 50% of all eligible members must vote and the majority must say ‘yes’ to strike. If this threshold is met, we’ll be able to stage strike action at all NHS employers across England, our largest strike in England so far. If the threshold is missed, we won’t be able to stage strike action anywhere in England. 

Pat Cullen said: “Once again, we’ve been forced to ask members if you want to take to the picket lines in your fight for fair pay. I’m asking you to use your vote again and make the challenges facing our profession impossible to ignore. You can force the government back to the negotiating table. You can force them to make an improved pay offer. You can give a voice to patients no longer safe in an NHS that is falling apart due to government underfunding. Please use your vote today.” 

By law, the ballot must be carried out by post and ballot papers will be sent first class today. Eligible members can expect to receive them within days and must return them as soon as possible to Civica Election Services (our independent ballot scrutineer). Ballot papers must be returned by midnight on Friday 23 June to be counted. Civica Election Services will also verify the final count of votes. 

Page last updated - 21/10/2023