Large scale nurse strikes never seen
Nurses have taken part in work to rule industrial action before but stopped short of all-out strikes.
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NHS historian Geoffrey Rivett, author of the book From Cradle to Grave: the first 60 years of the NHS, describes the late 1970s and early 1980s as the most militant in NHS nursing history.
The year 1982 saw the biggest industrial unrest in NHS history with 13 health unions seeking a pay increase.
But Dr Rivett believes the establishment of an independent pay review body in July 1983 was “the nurses’ reward for their moderation” in that conflict.
He said: “Its establishment recognised their special position within the NHS, and in particular the fact that most of the staff had not engaged in industrial action. The government reserved the right to exclude from the scope of the review body any groups that did resort to industrial action.”
However, the future of the NHS pay review body is now in doubt as the government has pre-empted its role by announcing a two year pay freeze from April 2011. The new government has also said it wants to move towards local rather than national pay bargaining.
Until 1995 the Royal College of Nursing had a “no strike” policy. That has now been dropped, but a lengthy internal process still has to be completed before the college can call a national strike.
A union source said the “perfect storm” needed to trigger strike action would be an attack on pay and pensions coming at the same time as cuts compromised the quality of patient care.