NHS-RCN-Photo: Paul-Mattsson
NHS-RCN-Photo: Paul-Mattsson

RCN nurse in South Wales

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will begin strike action on 15 and 20 December, the largest strike in its 106-year history, and I will be one of the nurses striking. During ten years of nursing, I have seen staffing levels, pay, and conditions deteriorate, and the Covid pandemic has been the last straw.

Nurses’ pay has dropped by 20% in real terms in the last decade, so the RCN is calling for a pay rise of 17.6% (or 5% above RPI inflation). The Tories have called this “unreasonable and unaffordable”, after they squandered billions on dodgy PPE procurement deals during the pandemic.

Trusts already spend millions on agency staff to plug staffing gaps, while NHS nurses increasingly have to use food banks, opt out of their pension contributions, and take up extra shifts on top of their full-time hours.

In response to the strikes, the Tories have asked us to remember our sense of vocation. During the height of the pandemic, I nursed colleagues on ventilators who had caught Covid while working on the front line. We often worked in inadequate and poor quality PPE.

Even before the pandemic, we often worked hours of unpaid overtime and through breaks. It’s estimated that nurses in Wales alone work the overtime equivalent of over 900 full-time nurses. And the Tories dare question our sense of vocation!

The media has also begun sensationalising, reporting that operations and chemotherapy will be suspended due to the strikes, as if this isn’t already happening on a daily basis due to short staffing! Many wards are frequently working at half the safe staffing level and patient safety is constantly compromised. During the strike, emergency and urgent care will continue. In Northern Ireland, RCN nurses struck in 2019 over pay (and won!) without harm to patients.

As nurses, we have a duty to advocate for our patients, and striking to ensure adequate pay and safe staffing is part of that. We have the public’s support and together we can win!

Building the success of the NHS strikes

An RCN nurse

On strike days, as well as picket lines, we should have nationwide protests, to draw maximum awareness and engagement from workers and the general public. It would also link us with other striking workers, such as rail and postal workers, to increase confidence and solidarity.

Health unions should be coordinating their action. It has been made clear that members of unions that didn’t meet the legal threshold to strike can refuse to cross RCN picket lines without being disciplined; this should be communicated to all members.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) should coordinate all groups of striking workers and prepare for a 24-hour general strike.

Health strike in Northern Ireland

A joint statement has been made by the Northern Ireland public service union NIPSA and Unison to announce action short of a strike from 5 December, and health service-wide strike action on Monday 12 December. This is the first strike in the health service since 2019.

The unions say:

“A return to strike action is a reflection of the depth of the crisis in the health service. Health workers in Northern Ireland, who have made enormous sacrifices during the Covid pandemic, have not even received a 2022-23 pay offer from their employers. An effective and efficient health service cannot be based on driving down the living standards of staff, some of whom now rely on food banks. A decent pay rise is essential to maintain the stability of the workforce and retain staff.”