Serious disruption in Britain’s hospitals could continue into Christmas, it has been warned, as a union leader said nurses’ strikes will continue if no agreement can be reached.
Pat Cullen, the head of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said the government had to put a better salary offer on the table if it didn’t want further industrial action.
On Friday, the RCN announced that its members will be dropping out on April 30 from 8pm for 48 hours after rejecting the latest offer.
For the first time, they will involve NHS nurses in emergency departments, intensive care units and cancer wards.
Ms Cullen was asked if the union would end strike action on Sunday’s BBC program Laura Kuenssberg.
She said: “No, our nurses will absolutely not do that.
“We have strikes for the end of this month and early May. Then we will immediately elect our members.
“If this vote is successful, it means more strike action until Christmas.”
However, she stressed that nurses would leave the picket line if they had to deal with emergencies.
NHS Providers Deputy Chief Executive Saffron Cordery said the program talks between unions and the government were “urgently” needed.
She said: “I really realize that managing strike action is unsustainable for the NHS.
“It feels like a really ugly situation to say we’re going to be on strike now until Christmas.
“We really need the government to come to the table with the unions to sort this out.”
Unison NHS members accepted the pay offer of a 5% pay rise this year and a one-off ‘Covid bonus’ for last year in a vote on Friday.
But the deal was rejected by 54% of RCN members, with Ms Cullen saying nurses saw the bonus as a “bribe”.
Writing for the Sun, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the RCN must accept the latest salary offer to allow the NHS to “refocus on patients”.
He added that the impact, particularly on emergency services and cancer treatment, is “deeply concerning”.
His opposition colleague Wes Streeting called on the RCN to continue protecting emergency lifesaving supplies if the union goes ahead with strikes.
The Shadow Health Secretary told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘I am deeply concerned at the risk of escalation in the nature of their dispute to overturn the so-called exemptions, the measures they have taken to protect these areas of care.’
The RCN’s rejection of the state salary offer came as some 47,000 junior doctors ended their 96-hour strike in a separate dispute over pay.
Asked if the union would consider coordinating any future industrial action involving junior doctors, RCN director for England Patricia Marquis told BBC Newsnight: “It’s something that needs to be considered, not least because we are all in the same room.
“We all work in the same places and so there can be an issue where at some point our strikes either coordinate or overlap in some way, as they did in earlier times when we didn’t necessarily coordinate but actually knocked have alongside other unions in the emergency services.’
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