Red and white 'On Strike' sign

Health leaders’ fears grow as strikes continue to escalate

Health leaders are becoming increasingly worried that their fears of a “war of attrition” between the Government and unions are starting to ring true, as yet more strikes are announced.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) announced yesterday that if no progress is made on the ongoing pay and safety disputes by the end of this month, their members in England and Wales will take part in the “highest intensity” strikes in their history.

The proposed strikes will take place on the 6th and 7th of February and will encompass 73 NHS trusts in England, which is significantly more than the 44 and 55 that took part in December and January respectively. The strikes in Wales will take place at the same employers that took part back in December.

The RCN already intends to strike on the 18th and 19th of January with other planned industrial action including ambulance strikes on the 23rd of January and physiotherapy strikes on the 26th of January and the 9th of February.

Responding to the situation of potentially more strikes, NHS Confederation chief executive, Matthew Taylor, urged the two parties to come to an agreement, highlighting how “vital” these next few weeks are to finding a solution.

He said: “With two more dates announced for nurse strikes in February and further ambulance walk-outs on the horizon, health leaders fear that their warnings of a prolonged war of attrition between the Government and the unions are coming true and they worry about the impact this will have on their patients and staff long term.

“The NHS is working hard with union representatives and others to ensure the most critical services continue to be provided and are minimising disruption, but elective procedures and check-ups are still having to be rescheduled against a backdrop of what is a very pressured time of year for the service.

“It appears that both sides have a willingness to compromise, and it is vital that the Prime Minister takes this opportunity to find a solution in health, even whilst similar opportunities may not exist elsewhere in the public sector.”

Matthew Taylor co-authored an open letter to Rishi Sunak last month just before Christmas urging him, and his government, to put the threats of industrial action to a “swift end” before the situation spirals out of control.

The letter was co-signed by NHS Confederation’s Chair, Lord Victor Adebowale; NHS Providers’ Chair, Sir Ron Kerr; and NHS Providers’ Interim Chief Executive, Saffron Cordery.

Effectively echoing her colleague’s sentiments, Saffron Cordery also responded to the additional nursing strikes, emphasising how the three-week gap between this week’s strikes and February’s is “more than enough time” for the Government and unions to come to an amicable agreement.

She said: “The announcement of two further nurse strike dates on consecutive days across more locations next month is very worrying. The health service is already stretched far too thin as trust leaders try to cope with ongoing industrial action alongside other mounting pressures bearing down on the NHS.

“We've seen how disruptive these strikes can be, and more extensive industrial action is likely to have an even greater impact. Nobody wants this to continue happening.

“We understand how frustrated nurses feel, and how they have got into this point: below-inflation pay awards, the cost-of-living crisis, severe staff shortages and increasing workloads have created near-impossible conditions.

“There are three weeks between now and these newly announced dates in February. This is more than enough time for the government and the unions to open negotiations on pay for 2022-23 and avert more strikes.”

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