NHS nurses in Merseyside have voted to go on strike following a national ballot in a row over pay and patient safety, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has confirmed.
The union asked its 300,000 members across the country to support industrial action as they launched the first statutory ballot on industrial action across the UK in the 106-year history of the RCN.
In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all but one NHS Trust and health board voted for strike action, but in England the turnout was too low in nearly half of trusts to qualify for industrial action.
In the Liverpool City Region, only Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust and Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust did not get enough votes to strike.
Industrial action is expected to begin before the end of this year and the RCN’s mandate to organise strikes runs until early May 2023.
Trusts in Liverpool City Region that voted to strike:
- Alder Hey Childrens NHS Foundation Trust
- Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
- Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
- Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Found Trust
- Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Liverpool Womens NHS Foundation Trust
- Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust
- NHS Cheshire and Merseyside ICB
- North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust
- St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
- The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Found Trust
- The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust
- Wirral Community Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust
- Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Found Trust
What’s been said
Health secretary Steve Barclay has described nurses voting to strike as "disappointing" while shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the Government of "unacceptable negligence".
The Labour MP said: "There were no strikes in the NHS during 13 years when Labour was last in government. If we were in office today, we would be talking with the RCN and doing everything we can to prevent these strikes going ahead.
"Government ministers spent the summer dodging calls and requests for meetings from the Royal College of Nursing. It is unacceptable negligence. The Conservatives have stopped governing and it is nurses and patients who will be made to pay the price."
RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “Anger has become action – our members are saying enough is enough. The voice of nursing in the UK is strong and I will make sure it is heard. Our members will no longer tolerate a financial knife-edge at home and a raw deal at work.
“Ministers must look in the mirror and ask how long they will put nursing staff through this. While we plan our strike action, next week’s Budget is the UK government’s opportunity to signal a new direction with serious investment. Across the country, politicians have the power to stop this now and at any point.
“This action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses. Standards are falling too low and we have strong public backing for our campaign to raise them. This winter, we are asking the public to show nursing staff you are with us.”
What do the RCN want for nurses?
The RCN balloted members working for the NHS on Agenda for Change contracts, on strike action which involves a complete withdrawal of labour. The RCN are demanding a fully funded pay rise for nursing staff of 5% above inflation, which is currently 10.1%.
According to analysis by London Economics, pay for NHS nurses has declined at twice the rate of those in the private sector, over the last decade, with their real-terms earnings falling by 6%.
An emergency department (ED) nurse at Wirral University Teaching Hospital, who wanted to remain anonymous, told LiverpoolWorld: “I think a strike is necessary to show how needed and important nurses are, and to fight for the pay we deserve.”
Merseyside nurses urged to strike
In the latest RCN report for the North West, figures showed that Merseyside was facing extreme staff shortages and dissatisfaction.
Pay was a leading cause for dissatisfaction, as the UK faces a cost of living crisis and the highest rate of inflation in fourty years.
Recent research suggests that the cost of living crisis will affect five of Merseyside’s constituencies harder than elsewhere in the country and many nurses are relying on food banks.
A concerned Merseyside ED nurse added: “Everyone in my department works incredibly hard to make sure we give the best quality of care possible and our pay doesn’t reflect that.
“I work long night shifts and look after incredibly ill patients and worked through the worst of the pandemic. The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone, we need to be well ourselves so we can do our jobs properly.”
Why did the RCN call for a strike?
In July, the Government announced a much lower pay award, which the RCN say leaves an experienced nurse over £1,000 worse off in real terms.
Describing the pay award as “a national disgrace,” the union says ministers’ refusal to listen to nursing has left it with no choice but to turn to industrial action.
A recent national survey of RCN members found 83% of respondents said staffing levels on their last shift were not sufficient to meet the needs of patients and in the last year, 25,000 NHS nurses have left their jobs.
Estephanie Dunn, Regional Director for RCN North-West, told LiverpoolWorld: “Nurses aren’t after a huge pay rise. This is not about greed, it’s about survival.
“It’s over ten years since nurses have had a pay rise equating to the cost of living and it has become normal for nursing staff to use food banks, along with other public sector workers.
“Healthcare workers were called heroes and clapped for and now feel as if they have been discarded.”
She added: “If nursing pay falls further and further behind the rate of inflation, the ability to recruit and retain nurses falls further and puts service users at risk.”
According to the latest figures, only 10.9% of nurses in Merseyside believe there are enough staff for them to do their job properly.
Pat Cullen, RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive, said: “Staff shortages are putting patient safety at risk and the government’s failure to listen has left us with no choice but to advocate for strike action.
“A lifetime of service must never mean a lifetime of poverty. Ministers refusal to recognise the skill and responsibility of the job is pushing people out of the profession. The next prime minister must change course urgently.”
If its members support strike action, it will be the first ever strike by RCN members in England or Wales. The nursing union went on strike for the first time in its history in Northern Ireland in 2019.
The RCN has increased its industrial action strike fund to £50 million, up from £35 million, a defining decision aiming to provide financial support towards lost earnings during strike action.