Nursing union leader demands double-digit pay offer from government

Nursing union leader now demands double-digit pay offer from the government to relaunch negotiations and warns PM her members ‘won’t blink first’ in talks

  • RCN head Pat Cullen said she had ‘underestimated’ members’ determination
  • Strikes for better pay and conditions have been ongoing in NHS for five months 

Nursing union leader Pat Cullen has called on Health Secretary Stephen Barclay to restart pay negotiations with a proposed rise in double digits as she warns the Prime Minister her members will not ‘blink first’ at the negotiation table.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members will begin a new ballot for strike action on May 23 after the existing six-month mandate ran out at the start of the month.

The majority of nursing unions have opted to accept the government’s offer of a five percent pay rise plus a one-off payment worth up to £1,600 in England. It comes amid a widespread staffing crisis in the NHS which is seeing the government consider allowing doctors to train on the job without a degree.

But nurses in the union rejected the deal by a slender majority, leading the general secretary to admit she had ‘underestimated’ members after she advised them to vote in favour of it. 

Ms Cullen, who described striking as one of the ‘hardest decisions’, told The Sunday Times fresh negotiations were needed to prevent six more months of action.

General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Pat Cullen has urged the government to give her members a pay rise in the double digits – the current offer is five percent

Ms Cullen attends a RCN picket line in Sheffield in January (second from right, front)

Speaking on the eve of the union’s annual conference last night, she said: ‘They (ministers) owe that to nursing staff not to push them to have to do another six months of industrial action right up to Christmas,’ she said ahead of Sunday’s RCN congress in Brighton, telling Mr Barclay talks need to ‘start off in double figures’.

‘It’s just not right for the profession. It’s not right for patients. But whose responsibility is it to resolve it? It is this government.’

Having pushed for a 19 percent pay rise, she had advised members to accept an offer of five percent – a deal they rejected despite being accepted by 14 other unions.

‘It’s not so long ago since the Prime Minister went on the media and very publicly said nurses are an exception,’ she said when asked why nurses warrant a larger increase than other healthcare workers.

‘I would totally agree with him… they should be made an exception because they are exceptional people.’

The mental health nurse, 58, from Co Tyrone, said patient safety was ‘at the centre of everything that we do’.

‘We will do nothing that will add further risk to the patients that we look after,’ she said, saying increased pay would see nurses return to the profession and ease a staffing crisis.

‘The truth is that patient safety cannot be guaranteed on any day of the week. How could you guarantee patient safety when you have 47,000 nurses from your workforce every single day and night?’

She warned Prime Minister Rishi Sunak not to take her members lightly.

‘Looking back on this pay offer, I may personally have underestimated the members and their sheer determination,’ she said.

‘I think what I would be saying to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is ‘Don’t – don’t make that same mistake, don’t underestimate them’. She added her members will not ‘blink first’ at the negotiation table.

Healthcare workers hold placards as they demonstrate outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London on May 1

Strikes have been ongoing in the NHS since December last year

‘Nurses believe it’s their duty and their responsibility because this government is not listening to them on how to bring it (the NHS) back from the brink and the message to the Prime Minister is that they are absolutely not going to blink first in these negotiations.’

The RCN recently held a 28-hour strike from April 30 to May 1, although were forced to shorten the planned 48-hour action following a ruling from the courts after a challenge by Health Secretary Steve Barclay. 

Read more: NHS waiting list spirals to ANOTHER record high with 7.3m patients now in queue as the Government misses key target to eliminate all 18-month waits

Strikes have now been ongoing in the NHS for the past five months. 

Separately, Welsh Unison members decided to accept a similar pay offer for staff in Wales, with four out of five voting in favour of the deal. 

As well as a five percent increase, the offer to Welsh nurses includes a one-off payment of up to £1,190. 

Other heath unions in Wales are also consulting their members on the offer.

They will discuss their results later this month ahead of a meeting with the Welsh government.

Unison official Jess Turner said: ‘Health workers have sent a clear message.

‘Of course, NHS staff want and deserve more, but they’ve opted to accept this offer and the certainty it brings them.

‘This acceptance might end Unison’s NHS dispute, but it doesn’t solve the significant workforce issues facing the health service.

‘The most pressing is tackling the growing staffing emergency and health worker burnout.

‘NHS staff have told us they need money in their pockets now to deal with the worsening cost-of-living crisis.

‘If this deal goes through NHS staff will receive their pay rise much sooner than in previous years.

‘This sets an expectation for the way NHS pay is approached in future in Wales.’

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