Nurses are being warned they risk jeopardising their registration and being denied pay and holiday accrual by going on strike.
The move comes as millions of public sector workers are being balloted over whether to take part in a “day of action” starting on 30 November in protest at planned pensions changes.
The government backed plans to scrap final salary pensions, raise the retirement age and increase employee contributions, before negotiations with unions had concluded.
Nursing and Midwifery Council chief executive and registrar Dickon Weir-Hughes said the regulator respected nurses’ “democratic right to express support for their trade unions and to lobby on a wide range of issues”.
But he continued: “However this must never be at the expense of the people that they are caring for.”
He added: “In considering how to respond to calls for industrial action, nurses and midwives must ensure that their actions do not jeopardise good standards of care.”
He also reminded nurses that their registration could be at risk if they failed to comply with the NMC’s code of conduct.
The conduct stresses nurses should make patients their “first concern” and provide a high standard of care “at all times”.
Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea condemned the statement, calling it “threatening and heavy handed”.
Royal College of Nursing executive director of nursing and service delivery Janet Davies said nurses would not “take a decision on industrial action lightly” but were “increasingly angry” about the pensions proposals.
Unlike the Unison and Unite unions, the RCN has decided not to ballot nurses. The Managers in Partnership union, which represents 5,500 senior managers including nurses, is balloting members for the first time.
NHS Employers, which represents organisations, last week wrote to human resources directors advising them to take on board the NMC’s code of conduct.
It has produced a template “policy statement” on industrial action for trusts to use, which states “payments under productivity bonus schemes may be adversely affected” for staff who strike.
In addition, annual leave entitlement will not accrue during periods of industrial action, although trusts may decide not to impose this due to the “administrative effort” involved. Any sickness absences will need to be explained with a medical note, the statement says.