Don’t underestimate nurses’ resolve, Pat Cullen tells government

Nurses have the 'energy and determination' for the months ahead

Nurses have the energy and determination to continue action over the months ahead, Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said at the end of yesterday’s nurse strikes.

After speaking to nurses on the picket lines, Cullen warned that the government must not underestimate nurses’ resolve, reminding ministers that the majority of RCN members voted to reject the government’s latest pay deal, and to keep campaigning for a better one.

This comes as Government and NHS officials met with representative from 14 NHS unions today through the NHS Staff Council, to determine whether the government pay offer will be implemented.

A majority was reached and unions voted to accept the offer.

The pay offer of a 5% increase for 2023-24 and an additional lump sum for 2022-23 was previously rejected by the RCN and Unite the union, however other union members, including from Unison and GMB, voted to accept.

Experienced nurses’ salary has fallen 20% in real terms since 2010, according to RCN, meaning nurses are effectively working one unpaid day a week.

Cullen commented that, although the outcome of today’s meeting appeared to be set, nurses will remain in dispute with the government over pay and staffing.

“Tuesday’s meeting with Steve Barclay appears a foregone conclusion,” said Cullen. “Different unions and different professions came to different, but respectable, conclusions on this pay offer.

“The deal being accepted by others does not alter the clear fact that nursing staff, as the largest part of the NHS workforce, remain in dispute with the government over unfair pay and unsafe staffing.”

Fighting Tory mistruths

Pat Cullen had to dispel further Tory mistruths being spread ahead of the nurse strikes yesterday, in relation to patient safety and minister meetings.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper claimed national exemptions had not been put in place ahead of the strikes, which he said would, ‘clearly put patients at risk’.

Whilst Pat Cullen said that this was just not true.

She fervently denied the claim made by Harper on Sky News, and explained how, from the beginning of announcing strike action, RCN worked alongside NHS England to put processes in place to protect patient safety and that national exemptions were granted.

Furthermore, Cullen said yesterday’s strike was an example of the union prioritising patient safety.

Commenting on the industrial action, Cullen said: “Today was a reminder that our action is always safe and has a belief in safe patient care at its core.

“Nursing staff are fighting for a stronger NHS that has enough nurses – a health service able to fill the tens of thousands of vacant jobs.”

She added: “Deep concerns over patient safety should be aired every day, not only on the day of a strike”.

Further claims were made by Health Secretary Steve Barclay, who said he had been engaged in talks with the RCN over the weekend, to which Pat Cullen told the BCC that this was simply, ‘factually incorrect’.

“I have had absolutely no talks with Steve Barclay over the weekend,” said Cullen, who was then pressed by the journalist if perhaps she had had talks with ‘his people’, to which Cullen continued to tell him that she had not.

“We have had many, many conversations over the weekend with NHS England, but certainly not with Steve Barclay or his officials, absolutely not.”

Hannah Davenport is trade union reporter at Left Foot Forward

(Photo credit: Sky News / Screenshot)

Left Foot Forward’s trade union reporting is supported by the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust

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