Retired nurses and final year students could be called upon by NHS managers to shore up services in the event of industrial action by nurses and other healthcare workers, according to secret emails seen by Nursing Times.
Nurses will soon be asked whether they want to join forces with other public sector staff in what Unison general secretary Dave Prentis described as the “fight of their lives” over planned changes to their pensions.
Public sector unions, including Unison and Unite, announced last week they would ballot members for industrial action, after claiming that talks with the government had broken down.
Mr Prentis said: “After eight months of talks they have failed to move closer to an agreement. We are willing to negotiate any time, anywhere – but now is the time to take a stand.”
A first “day of action” has already been planned for 30 November and could include anything from lunchtime rallies to an all-out strike, depending on the outcome of the ballot.
Document seen by Nursing Times reveal that the Department of Health emailed senior managers in June urging them to review contingency plans for industrial action, and requested details of union membership and likely “pressure points”.
They show that – in the event of any walkout – trusts may move non clinical staff into “frontline” roles and call on retired nurses, final year students and volunteers. But the correspondence also reveals some managers doubt privately whether staff would be prepared to cover colleagues who had gone on strike.
The Royal College of Nursing, which is not affiliated with the TUC, has said it will consider its options before deciding whether to ballot members on industrial action. But senior employment relations officer Gerry O’ Dwyer the college would be “engaged” with the day of action in some way, even if it did not opt for a ballot.
Mr O’ Dwyer said nurses seemed most angry over plans to raise the retirement age to 66 in 2026. The government has also backed reforms that would scrap final salary pensions and force nurses to pay more towards their pensions.
In addition, there is growing anger over moves to alter Agenda for Change terms and conditions.
Unions are set to meet Treasury minister Danny Alexander and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude on Thursday to argue against the proposed changes to the pensions scheme.