Members of the Royal College of Nursing were divided today over whether they should take future strike action over issues such as wage increases, improved working conditions and to resist attacks on unsocial hours pay, following a wide-ranging debate.
RCN members discussed the possibility of striking in the future, despite a history of the union never having undertaken industrial action.
“Strike action doesn’t mean walking out and leave the patients, it means standing up for nurses”
Members speaking in support of the right to take future strike action said nurses had a duty to patients to advocate for changes that would improve their care.
Some members said despite claims it was not possible to go on strike without risking patient safety, other unions had managed to achieve this and argued the RCN would be able to too.
They pointed to recent strikes by other unions – including the Royal College of Midwives that had never before gone on strike until last year – which unions said demonstrated the severity of issues currently facing NHS workers.
However, those nurses speaking against strike action cited the recent crisis in nursing numbers and low staffing levels as a reason not to take industrial action, suggesting patient safety would be at risk.
Others stressed nurses needed to “pick their battles” with the government, claiming it would be more beneficial to find new and better ways to negotiate, while it was also claimed that the general public would not support a nurse strike.
“Striking goes against the fundamental principles of nursing. How can I justify leaving my ward short-staffed…to strike?”
RCN member from Birmingham
An RCN representative from Birmingham said: “I personally believe that striking goes against the fundamental principles of nursing. How can I justify leaving my ward short-staffed in order for me to go outside and strike? When I don’t believe there’s enough strong evidence to demonstrate it will actually help.”
However, former RCN president Andrea Spyropoulos said: “The term strike strikes fear into the heart of every nurse, but it will also strike fear into the heart of any politician.
“Strike action doesn’t mean walking out and leave the patients, it means standing up for nurses. They [the government] came for your pension, they’re coming for your right to strike and they’re coming for your terms and conditions,” she warned.
Following more than 30 speakers on the issue, Carl Frith from the RCN Greater Glasgow branch who proposed the issue for discussion, concluded: “I don’t want to strike. It goes against everything I feel about caring for patients, but patients are struggling now and we are struggling as a profession.
He urged the RCN to ask all its members on whether strike action should be used in the future, adding: “I feel we are being left behind as a profession due to our reluctance…for strike action.”
Matter for discussion
Should nurses in the RCN strike to protect not only ourselves but our patients and the services that they rely on