Nurses could strike until Christmas if they cannot reach a deal with the Government, a union leader has warned.
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) leader Pat Cullen called for the Government to improve its pay offer to avoid further strikes but assured patients that nurses will come off picket lines to deal with emergencies.
The RCN announced on Friday that its members will walk out for 48 hours from 8pm on April 30 after rejecting the Government’s pay offer.
When asked if the union will stop strike action, Ms Cullen told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg On Sunday programme: “No, our nurses will absolutely not do that.
“We have strike action for the end of this month and the beginning of May.
“Then we will move immediately to ballot our members.
“If that ballot is successful it will mean further strike action right up until Christmas.”
NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery told the programme it is “not sustainable” for the NHS to continue managing strike action.
She said: “It’s really clear to me that it’s not sustainable going forward for the NHS to manage strike action.
“It feels like a really ugly situation to say we are going to have strikes now until Christmas.
In an opinion piece for The Sun, Health Secretary Steve Barclay warned that fresh nurses’ strikes would have a “deeply concerning” impact on emergency services and cancer care.
The Health Secretary called on the RCN to accept the Government’s pay offer so the NHS can “get back to focusing on patients”.
On Sunday afternoon, Mr Barclay tweeted a copy of a letter he had sent to Ms Cullen which urged the union to reconsider further industrial action and said he would welcome a meeting to discuss avoiding strikes.
In the letter, Mr Barclay said the most recent pay offer was a “fair and reasonable settlement”, adding: “The decision to refuse at this stage any exemptions for even the most urgent and life-threatening treatment during this action will, I fear, put patients at risk.”
On Friday, Unison’s NHS members accepted the NHS pay offer of a 5% pay rise this year and a cash payment for last year.
However, 54% of RCN members voted to reject the deal.
The turnout among RCN members employed on NHS Agenda for Change contracts in England was 61%.
The RCN announcement came as around 47,000 junior doctors finished their 96-hour strike in a separate dispute over pay at 7am on Saturday.
The Labour politician told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “I’m deeply worried about the risk of escalation of the nature of their dispute, to remove what’s known as the derogations, the measures they put in place to protect those areas of care.”
Tory Party chairman Greg Hands said more strikes by nurses would “clearly have an impact” as he declined to criticise them for deciding not to provide cover for emergencies.
Mr Hands told Sky News: “I think the public are very concerned, understandably, and we will do everything that we can, and I’m sure the management of the NHS will do everything that it can to make sure that the impact of the strike is kept under control.
“But I wouldn’t be being truthful if I didn’t say it will have an impact. Nurses going on strike will clearly have an impact.”