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NHS told to gear up for industrial action, as unions poised for 'fight of their lives'


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.


Readers' comments (68)

  • And I hope retired Nurses, student Nurses and 'non clinical staff' ?!?!?! tell the NHS managers to stick it right up their arses! (So much for patient safety eh management? watch your backs if anything goes wrong students!)

    This is a panic plan brought on by the very real threat of Nurses finally striking, and they are running scared already! They know the power we can wield if we choose to, and they know exactly how bad things can get for them if we do strike! We should now turn the arrogant Danny Alexander's own tricks against him, and TELL him exactly what is going to happen whether he and the government likes it or not. He has clearly demonstrated no interest in negotiation, so why should we? We should now issue a list of DEMANDS, and ORDER him to follow every single last one of them to the letter if he wants the NHS (and the rest of the public services for that matter) to continue to function.

    And O'Dwer and the rest of the RCN can go spin, the RCN have shown themselves to be the weak, spineless, pointless fools that they really are. They do not represent Nurses in any way shape or form and I urge everyone to join UNISON instead,so we can call to get rid of this ineffective bunch of wasters.

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  • here here

    well said mike, the time has come to show these tory/lib conmen we mean business!

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  • Well, I think the Government forgets that it has stitched up the non-clinical workers too. Your Administrators, Clerks, Porters and the rest are all going to loose out with their pensions, so I think they need to think again. I’d like to think that the NMC would have something to say about Student Nurses being misused in this way as I was of the impression that third-year students were still supernumerary. The RCN on this, and every other issue, are proving to be completely irrelevant and I hope members are taking note!

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  • As an RCN member I am taking note and wondering if i can possibly swap unions in time. As I am fed up of the service from the RCN and this is the last straw as far as they are concerned. Ithink it is now is the time for action!

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  • My husband and i left RCN and moved to another Union as we felt the RCN weren't supporting us.

    AS Mike says be very careful students and watch you backs don't get struck of before you start.

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  • Steve Williams

    KateC, you can “swap Unions” in a day (although actually the RCN is not a union – so you'd just be joining a union and resigning from a professional body.) Simply your local Unison rep for a form and sign the form. Then cancel whatever form of payment method you use for the RCN fees. Simple as that. If you are feeling generous you might actually tell the RCN rep you have terminated your membership – and why!!!

    I wonder if the NHS managers have already consulted with the NMC? After all we are always being told that the NMC is there to protect the patients... Would the retired nurses and final year nurses have valid registrations and (in the case of retirees) would they “current” with their practice?

    If the NMC allows either group to do any of the duties that a Registered Nurse is allowed, by law, to do then it rather makes a mockery of the NMC's reason for existing. They might as well let healthcare assistants pose as registered nurses... after all that's what that happened a couple of weeks ago in Kent...

    (NT 7th September 2011 -

    and the NMC said in a statement at the time...

    “We are extremely concerned that a woman was allegedly practicing illegally as a nurse, without having undergone the required education and training necessary to become a registered member of the nursing profession.”

    Methinks the “ NHS managers” have not thought this one through properly. If it should actually come to pass (and Hell enters an ice age) the NMC would, ipso facto, be admitting that the exacting standards (not to mention fees) they require to maintain a valid registration are actually an unnecessary ruse mainly to garner a source of revenue for itself.

    Once again.... IF this situation did ever happen... where would it legally leave the retired nurses and final year nurses (who were stupid enough to participate in the scheme) after the industrial action is over? After all they would have been acting as Registered Nurses without holding a valid license. Would they be liable for prosecution?

    Besides which, the majority of nurses who are now retired remember how the profession got totally screwed over back in 82 – and have suffered a lifetime of abuse from NHS management – not many of them would be rushing back to stab their former colleagues in the back.

    After all these years it's refreshing to see that nurses are finally willing to put their bickering aside for a while and stand together to assert their professional standards with action. Watch how quickly the government backs down. The current set of invertebrates are not as resolute as Thatcher's bunch was!

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  • As a retired nurse who, in the 1970's/80's took industrial action to help nurses get a better wage deal and conditions - in my own time, out of working hours, at a time when hundreds of my colleagues refused to take any active part in it, but still bebefitted from the outcome of it - I feel I am entitled to voice my opinion on this
    present proposal for Industrial action.

    Do give it your support. In the final analysis, it is YOUR NHS, and you will be doing something positive to keep it going.

    Once the NHS goes down the proverbial plughole, we wont be able to afford health care anymore

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  • Having retired early 4 years ago and being aware (via ex colleagues) about the current culture within the NHS (quantity not quality) I would not volunteer to return to help out should the NHS make such a proposal to me.

    I do not support nurses striking but then if I thought I was going to be robbed of my pension for which I worked very hard, I might in all honesty feel justified in doing so.

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  • I have just left the useless RCN and joined Unison. You can join on their website and it takes about 5 days to process they say.

    The more people who change over the better. It will send a definite message to the RCN that they need to stand up for us!
    It will hit them where it hurts- in the pocket!

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  • I do not want to go on strike but I will do so because of the pension debacle. My pension (due in 2 years) is what keeps me relatively sane and helps me to cope with the often unreasonable demands made by subsequent governments over the decades.

    If we do not show our strength of feeling at being stitched up in this way, then we deserve being stitched up.

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