Nurses have vowed to “bring this government down” in their fight for a bigger pay rise. The call came as the Royal College of Nursing prepares to vote on more strike action next week.
Meanwhile, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen is to warn that this time, double the number of nurses could walk out, hitting “twice as many hospitals”. Yesterday, speakers at the union’s annual congress were cheered as they called on members to “strike to win”.
Anna Pichierri, who works in mental health said: “NHS strikes are part of a social and political struggle, to save the NHS but also to defeat this Government – this Tory, racist, and anti-working class Government – and to defend all our public services.”
She called on nurses to co-ordinate strikes with doctors and other healthcare unions to create a “united front”.
She said: “We are not striking to get back to the negotiating table. We are striking to win.
“We cannot call off the action just because we are called to negotiations, that is when we need to keep the pressure up. This is our strike to win – and we can win.”
Jason Warriner, a charity director who proposed a discussion on the pay battle, told the Brighton meeting: “We’ve got to win this campaign.
“We’ve got to bring this government down and get a fresher vote, not just about pay, but about safe staffing.”
Ms Cullen initially recommended nurses to accept the Government’s offer of a five per cent rise for 2022-23, plus a one-off payment.
But after they rejected it last month, she called at the weekend for pay talks to “start off in double figures”.
In her conference speech today, she will say: “The health and care system is sailing dangerously close to the wind right now. The conditions feel intolerable for too many nurses and nursing support workers.
“Patients are not dying because nurses are striking, nurses are striking because our patients are dying. It is as clear as that.”
Ms Cullen is urging Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to reopen pay negotiations and “get the job done” before the NHS’s 75th birthday in July.
She will warn that fresh walkouts could ultimately mean “twice as many nurses take strike action and twice as many hospitals affected by a strike”.
But Ms Cullen, a nurse for 40 years, will also acknowledge that many colleagues are uncomfortable striking.
She is set to say: “I never once met a nurse or support worker who wanted to be on a picket line.
“Many people I spoke to on picket lines were in tears at how far they had been pushed and never thought striking would be a move nursing would ever make.”
Before the congress, Ms Cullen denied her stance over originally recommending the previous pay offer was “confusing”.
She said: “Tens of thousands of my members voted to tell the government their last offer was not good enough, that’s very clear.
“What was the offer? It was basically a consolidated nine percent over a couple of years, and that’s a really important point.
“And we’re saying to the government, let’s negotiate further and add to it.”
Ms Cullen also claimed many nurses were “living in poverty” and this week’s conference would reveal “harrowing” stories.
The RCN’s six-month mandate for strike action ran out after the last round and a fresh ballot will open on May 23.
If members vote in favour, it could pave the way for what Ms Cullen described as “another six months of industrial action right up to Christmas”.
Yesterday, the crowd whooped as A&E nurse Lynsey Curtis-Dawson warned: “Rishi Sunak, are you listening? We aren’t going away. This is not the end of the nursing strikes.”
Nearly 2,700 delegates, representing the union’s 500,000 members are at this week’s conference.