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Gail Adams: 'Nurses rarely take action but, when they do, they win'

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Unison is now balloting its members who work in the NHS. There are a lot of myths fl ying around and I would like to address some of them.

Nurses cannot walk off the ward and abandon patients - they don’t, they never have and they never will. They spend hours with employers agreeing emergency cover arrangements before any industrial action - they always have and always will. This is to ensure they take action in a safe way.

It’s ironic really that only when nurses take strike action do employers want to agree minimum staffi ng levels. Employers don’t believe in minimum staffi ng on any other day.

“Nursing is a force for good and it’s also a political force, which I believe this government is taking for granted.”

Nursing is an amazing profession. And nurses rarely take action but, when they do, they win. During my career, I’ve been on strike on twice. The fi rst was in 1988 over clinical grading, when employers changed clinical grading forms with the deliberate intention of downbanding staff. The second was again under the Conservatives when they tried to introduce local pay in 1993. On each occasion, we won.

Nursing is a force for good and it’s also a political force, which I believe this government is taking for granted. The secretary of state is confusing the fact that nurses act with care and compassion toward patients with being a meek and mild profession.

When nurses use their voice, they are a powerful force for good and now is the time to use it.

It is also important to recognise that, by challenging unfair pay, we are fighting for better care for patients too. All research tells us that a happy and motivated workforce leads to better patient care outcomes. But it’s becoming ever more difficult for people to balance their budgets at home and this will only add to the worry of hard-working nurses. Many nurses will not be able to afford the increase in registration fees. Pay in the NHS has not kept pace with inflation and staff have not received an above-inflation pay rise since 2009.

So nurses can and should strike; they won’t walk off from clinical areas without having agreed emergency cover. But what’s the alternative? If nurses do nothing, they face exactly the same for what could be the next three years.

I believe nurses should take industrial action over pay. I believe nurses - like other professionals - have the right to withdraw their labour and that doesn’t make them uncaring.

The decision to take strike action is not easy but we know it can be done safely and nurses should not feel guilty about asking for fair pay. I believe we will get a yes vote. Our case is just and simple - implement the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body in full.

Many unions are giving their members a say by balloting them. Unison is asking two questions: would you be prepared to take strike action? And would you be prepared to take action short of strike action?

“We are giving our members the opportunity to have a say”

We are giving our members the opportunity to have a say and I hope they will vote yes to both. Above all, I hope they vote.

It really is time for nurses to stand up for themselves so they can stand up for patients. Talking to MPs is important too but it will be too late to change the government’s decision for this year. Nurses need to send a strong message to the health secretary, saying “Don’t take nurses for granted”. They are highly experienced, caring and dependable people who deserve fair pay.

Nurses are worth it and I for one will not let anyone say differently. “Nurses rarely take action but, when they do, they win”

Gail Adams is head of nursing at Unison

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