Nurses have threatened strike action across the whole of the NHS in England after ministers imposed a new pay deal for the majority of NHS staff without an agreement with the nursing union.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that it is to ballot members on further strikes between June and December “across the full NHS”, previous strikes only occurred in around half of NHS trusts.
It comes after Health Secretary Steve Barclay announced that more than a million NHS workers in England are to be given a 5% pay rise this year and a cash sum for last year, after the majority of NHS unions agreed to the deal.
He said the deal for NHS staff on the Agenda for Change contract, which includes all NHS workers apart from doctors, dentists and senior managers, was the “final offer” as he urged the RCN and others holding out to join the majority of health unions in accepting it.
Unison, GMB, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Royal College of Midwives were among those who voted to accept the offer, while the RCN and Unite voted against it.
The ballot results were reported at an NHS Staff Council meeting on Tuesday, where the majority of unions urged the Government to implement the offer.
In a letter to Mr Barclay, the RCN’s chief executive and general secretary Pat Cullen said: “Despite today’s meeting and the outcome that reflects the votes across all unions, the RCN remains in formal dispute with the Government and the NHS over pay levels.
“Later this month, we will ballot 280,000 members in England’s NHS over further strike action to be held between June and December 2023.
“We will hold an aggregated ballot under the relevant legislation which, if supported by a sufficient number of RCN members, would provide the legal mandate to take strike action across the full NHS.
“Until this point, our strike action has been in approximately 50% of NHS trusts and other NHS employers.”
Ms Cullen also told BBC News: “What I would say to the Government today is just be careful about over claiming this as a success and an the end to the industrial action.
“The Government knows only too well that nurses remain in dispute with this government, also junior doctors and a number of healthcare workers that are represented by Unite. So this dispute is far from over.”
She added that ministers “can’t ignore” the largest group of healthcare workers in the NHS and urged them to get back round the table.
“Let’s now get to meaningful talks, let’s put more money on the table and let’s make sure that these nurses don’t have to be re-balloted in May and have to strike up until Christmas,” she added.
Unite will also continue to take action.
“Because of this, Unite used its seats on the Staff Council to also vote against it.
“In fact, we will be escalating strike action.
“The Staff Council vote is not binding on individual unions and therefore the vote will not stop Unite representing the best interests of our members.”
Mr Barclay said: “I’m pleased the NHS Staff Council has voted to accept our pay offer, demonstrating that a majority of NHS staff agree this is a fair and reasonable deal.
“It is now my intention to implement this for all staff on the Agenda for Change contract, and where some unions may choose to remain in dispute, we hope their members, many of whom voted to accept this offer, will recognise this as a fair outcome that carries the support of their colleagues and decide it is time to bring industrial action to an end.”
He told reporters: “It is the final offer, it’s important that those unions recognise the collective decision.
“It was negotiated collectively, the RCN were at the negotiating table, indeed (RCN chief) Pat Cullen recommended this deal to her own members.”
Sara Gorton, head of health at the union Unison, who chairs the union group on the NHS Staff Council, said: “NHS workers will now want the pay rise they’ve voted to accept.
“The hope is that the one-off payment and salary increase will be in June’s pay packets.
“But health staff shouldn’t have needed to take action in the first place, proper pay talks last autumn could have stopped health workers missing out on money they could ill afford to lose.
“The NHS and patients would also have been spared months of disruption.”
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Health leaders are concerned that with four trade unions remaining in dispute with the Government over this deal, that the worrying prospect of further industrial action remains.
“Added to that, health leaders are eager for a resolution to be agreed between the Government and British Medical Association (BMA), as the last junior doctors strikes saw 196,000 appointments and planned procedures needing to be postponed.
“So, while the NHS Staff Council outcome is very positive news overall, it is not the line in the sand that will allow the NHS and those relying on its care to confidently move on from the threat of future strikes, or from the underlying issues affecting the NHS that led to this activity being felt as necessary in the first place.”
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of the NHS Providers organisation, which represents NHS Trusts, said: “We hope that this brings an end to the most disruptive period of industrial action in NHS history.
“But the NHS isn’t out of the woods yet.
“Industrial action over the past six months has led to more than 531,000 patient appointments being rescheduled, but we must remember that care backlogs stretch back long before strikes and the pandemic due to years of underfunding and many thousands of vacancies.”
Mr Barclay met junior doctors from the BMA to discuss the row over their pay.
A Government spokesperson said: “The Government and the BMA junior doctors committee held a constructive discussion this afternoon, in preparation for talks aimed at resolving the current junior doctors dispute.
“Both parties will meet again in the coming days.”