Nurses have become so concerned about their job security and working conditions that more than a quarter say they would go on strike, Nursing Times’ largest ever survey has found.
Out of more than 5,000 respondents, 26 per cent would consider striking if they were unhappy with their working conditions.
I don’t think nursing has a history of taking industrial action. But people are incredibly worried about their jobs
Only 15 per cent would not consider any industrial action. The majority - 67 per cent - said they would work to rule by, for example, leaving work the minute their shift ended or breaks started.
There has never been a national all-out nursing strike in England, but Nursing Times’ survey demonstrates the extent of nurses’ insecurities and determination to protect jobs and services amid plans for a massive NHS shake-up and efforts to save £20bn.
Asked to rank a series of statements according to the extent they agreed or disagreed, the largest proportion -38 per cent - agreed most strongly with the statement “I feel insecure in my job - I feel scared I will be laid off”.
In contrast, the largest proportion to disagree strongly were the 50 per cent who said they could not sign up to the statement “I feel optimistic about the future of nursing in the NHS”.
Ealing and Harrow provider services nurse consultant Linda Nazarko said the scale of change planned for the NHS had left nurses “very fearful”.
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“I don’t think nursing has a history of taking industrial action. But people are incredibly worried about their jobs,” she said.
The difficulty of organising effective action without compromising patient care was laid bare by the survey.
Mental health and intensive care nurses were most likely to consider going on strike, with 40 per cent and 39 per cent respectively saying they were prepared to do this.
Practice nurses, healthcare assistants and nursing directors were the least likely to say they would take any form of action, including protesting outside working hours.
Overall, approximately half put “industrial action should never affect patient care or services” at the top of a question asking respondents to rank a series of related statements.
However, more than a quarter said the statement they most agreed with was “Industrial action will only work if patient care and services are affected”.
The survey also revealed that while the majority would consider industrial action, 44 per cent were prepared to sacrifice a pay rise to protect their job.
Overall, 70 per cent of respondents said the change most likely to push them towards industrial action was if spending cuts compromised patient care.
Other inflammatory issues were pay cuts - which would lead to 58 per cent taking industrial action - and a worsening of pension terms, which would trigger 53 per cent to take industrial action.
Royal College of Nursing head of employment relations Josie Irwin said: “The findings chimed with what our reps have been telling us. The concern was about jobs and restructuring and your survey has highlighted the fact that pensions are a real point for anxiety.
“When there have been these culls before, there has been so much skill and so much experience lost.
“Clinical nurse specialists seem to have been targeted by the more gung-ho, slash and burn managers. It is so shortsighted because all the research shows their contribution, not just to readmission and patient care, but economically.”
RCN critical care forum chair Rachel Binks said senior nurses had an important role in ensuring staff were kept aware of any changes under discussion.
She said: “We’re the eyes and ears of the hospital for the managers and are in a position to pick up feelings of unrest among the nurses and domestic staff and feed back any questions.”
A DH spokesman said efficiency gains would not result in cuts to clinical posts “unless costs rise without productivity gains”, but nurses may need to work in different trusts or in new roles.
He added: “We are committed to supporting nurses and their clinical colleagues to deliver better, more effective and efficient care.”
As revealed previously in Nursing Times, trusts are already withholding pay increments to nurses with poor sickness absence records or asking staff to consider pay cuts in return for job security.
Last week all 3,000 staff at Liverpool Primary Care Trust were offered options including voluntary redundancy or working part time as part of a savings programme.
Should nurses go on strike?