NURSES will start voting next month on whether to strike over pay in what is being described as a “defining moment” for the profession.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it will be recommending hundreds of thousands of its members support industrial action in a ballot that opens in mid-September.

The postal ballot will ask RCN members working for the NHS in Wales and England on Agenda for Change contracts if they will take strike action which involves a complete withdrawal of labour.

It will open on Thursday September 15 for four weeks.

If its members support strike action, it will be the first ever strike by RCN members in Wales and England.

The college went on strike for the first time in its history in Northern Ireland in 2019.

The college has called for a pay rise for nursing staff of five per cent above RPI inflation, which is currently 11.8 per cent.

Last month the Welsh Government has announced pay increases of between four and 4.5 per cent for nurses but has said any further increase would require additional funding from the UK Government.

In England a four per cent rise was announced by the UK Government which it said was a £1,400 pay rise, similar to that announced in Wales.

But the RCN said an experienced nurse would be left more than £1,000 worse off in real terms, describing it as “a national disgrace”.

The RCN also announced it has increased its industrial action strike fund to £50 million, up from £35 million, to provide financial support towards lost earnings during strikes.

Officials said industrial strike action was a last resort, but the current NHS staffing crisis was causing “unacceptable risk” to patients and staff.

Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary, said: “Nursing staff will stop at nothing to protect their patients.

“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.”

Carol Popplestone, who chairs the RCN Council, said in a message to members: “After years of underpayment and staff shortages, the fight for fair pay must strengthen.

“This year’s pay award does not help you with the rising cost of living. It will do nothing to help to recruit or retain more nursing staff where you work and will not keep patients safe.”

Last month, following the pay awards, Matthew Tovey, a nurse who has left hospital work behind due to stress and who now works in a GP practice, said he wanted to see joint industrial action from healthcare unions.

He told The National that "The only option now is to build to a strike, otherwise we just won't be taken seriously.

"I would urge the unions to coordinate their ballot dates as much as possible, distribute information [about the pay campaign] jointly, in every workplace."

He suggested joint action could increase pressure due to other ongoing industrial action from railway workers, the legal profession and postal workers.

The Welsh Government said its position is that greater pay awards would require new money from the UK Government. 

A spokesperson said it recognises concern from staff over the rising cost-of-living and said it is "always disappointing" when any member of staff feels they have to ballot for industrial action.

The spokesperson said: "In announcing our pay award for the NHS workforce in Wales, we made clear that without additional funding from the UK Government, there are limits to how far we can go to address these concerns in Wales. We continue to press the UK Government to provide additional funding necessary for fair pay rises for public sector workers.

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“We will seek to maintain our conversations in social partnership with our workforce representatives in Wales, and ensure that we have plans in place to maintain patient safety in the event of industrial action.”

A formal pay announcement is still awaited in Northern Ireland, while in Scotland the college has urged its members to reject a five per cent pay offer from the Scottish government.

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