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Patient safety is most likely spark for nurse industrial action


The reason nurses are most likely to consider taking industrial action over are staff or service cuts they believe will reduce patient safety, according to a survey by Nursing Times.

With some unions starting to ballot members for a “day of action” in November in protest at the government’s proposed changes to public sector pension schemes, Nursing Times asked nurses their views on industrial action.

Of the 1,100 respondents to the survey, 24% said they planned to take part in the day of action in some way, while 53% said they were yet to decide and 23% said they did not intend to take part.

Asked over which issue they would consider taking industrial action – but not strike action – 81% of respondents said cuts that affected patient safety, while the same percentage, 67%, said the proposed pension changes and employers’ plans to reduce workforce to make savings.

When asked what they would consider taking strike action over, the same issues were most popular, but overall fewer respondents were prepared to take this form of industrial action – 29% said they would not consider going on strike at all.

If you’re a subscriber you can read our survey results in full


Asked if their view had changed over the last six months on their preparedness to protest against pressures facing nurses and the NHS, 69% said they had become more likely to take part in industrial action – 29% said nothing had changed.    

Most, 58%, said the Nursing and Midwifery Council had been right to remind nurses this month of their duties to protect patient safety when making a decision about whether to take industrial action, while 27% said the regulator had been wrong to do so.

The NMC was forced to “clarify” its position on the issue last week, after Unison threatened it with legal action for issuing a statement, which the union said, suggested nurses would be in breach of their code of conduct if they took part in industrial action.

The NMC confirmed that nurses could take industrial action without breaching the nursing code, highlighting it was up to employers to provide sufficient cover for staff taking part in official protests.

But it reminded nurses that sharing information with staff covering their roles was “especially important” in such situations.

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Readers' comments (37)

  • Absolutely disappointed by this, still 23% who would not strike and 53% undecided?? Shameful. Whilst I appreciate that this isn't exactly a wholly inclusive survey, it still shows that many would not bother to do anything at all about the myriad problems that face our profession, and that is why things are unlikely to change. It does beg the statement we deserve what we get. So lets welcome in a new era in the NHS, where patient safety means nothing next to business interests, patient care is non existent because it is not cost effective to hire enough staff, where our profession is sent right back to the days of old and we will be nothing more than glorified assistants again, bullied even more relentlessly by our 'ruling bodies', poorly paid, with poor working conditions, no prospects, respect or status. If we want to offer specialised services for our patients, well, we're only Nurses, of course we can't do that!

    And yet 23% couldn't be bothered to do anything about it, and the majority couldn't make their minds up. Well done.

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  • I totally agree with you Mike. I am again disappointed but not suprised that nurses are once again on the whole prepared to bend over and take it rather than do anything about it. They just sit back, watch their working conditions get erroded then have a good old moan about it at break time and absolutely refuse to believe that they have the power to do anything about it. I am fortunate to be in an area were its well staffed on the whole and I don't face the nightmare that adult medical nurses do, where my registration is on the line every day due to horrendous patient/nurse ratios, but I would be prepared to stand up and fight with them. patient safety is important and its the one issue that totally affects the care patients recieve. Surely as an advocate for our patients we should be uniting on this one issue alone.
    Gone are the days when I would be concerned about public image of nurses if we took action, because due to the media bashing thats taking place lately. I don't believe we have a good image anymore anyway. (convenient when government are trying to push through the recent bill that the papers increase their stories about bad nursing care, Hidden agenda there maybe).
    As a profession we need to engage the general public and make them realise that bad nursing ratios are the reason their aunt Ethel didnt recieve the care she should have, not because the nurses don't care. We do care and we care a lot. But ratios of 1 to 15 are unacceptable and unsafe.
    Every nurse need to report incidents of unsafe care. Fill in those incident forms, alert management, report it to the CQC and your MP and don't stop until finally the voice is so loud they can't refuse to sweep it under the carpet anymore.
    Stop staying after work hours to fill in paperwork. Instead fill in an incident form stating, "unable to complete due to poor staffing and lack of time"
    Nothing is done about it currently because management know that nurses will do their best to 'cope'. Stop coping and stop being a martyr and do something positive to actually change the situation or to be honest you will get what you deserve which is errosion of your pay and conditions and poor and unsafe staffing levels.

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  • Mike - I think this actually reflects the current economic climate more than the problems within our hospitals. People can not afford financially to strike due to their present income and are fearful of losing their jobs.

    I am aware of strike pay being awarded but this takes time to come through and with Christmas around the corner more nurses are concerned about how to put food on the table now then in 20 - 30 years time when they retire.

    Patient safety and care has always been compromised - this is a fact I have seen in 20 years of working in the NHS - but nurses have always tried to provide the best possible care. Now nurses are being forced to compromise their care to patients knowing that they may be put at risk and are not prepared to take that risk. The government have called their bluff basically and this is the result.

    I know how passionate you feel about this Mike, but unfortuantely you are asking people to go against the grain and their years of compassion and training. This was going to be hard to achieve from the start and the government know this - maybe one day they will push too far - but they haven't quite pushed it far enough for most - yet!

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  • Hi Mike and UK sisters..:)
    Just thought I would update you re our ongoing EBA ( Bargaining ) with Government and our union the ANF.
    We now have as state Government Liberals and they have just given us their DEMANDS.
    Stopping Patient Ratios
    Introduction of split shifts
    Introduction of Health Care Assistants
    An insultive pay increase of 2.5% if we submit our entitlements.
    The ability to move us from ward to ward within a shift.
    The ability to cancel a shift at employers decision.
    Getting rid of ANUMs ( In charge )

    As you can imagine we are horrified.This all came out last Wednesday and we are on the MOVE
    A massive meeting has already been held in the city with thousands of nurses turning up,
    The ballots are already out for
    Industrial Action and hospitals are already preparing for bed closures.
    Media is being kept well up to date.
    2nd massive meeting arranged for the 4th Nov when we decide if Industrial action will take place and what we are initially going to do.
    These are absoluatly ludicrous demands that will probably see another strike if negotiations fail.
    These demands will NOT happen.
    Go to
    Facebook: ANF Respect our Work
    We have a fight ahead but we are in one of the most powerful unions in Australia and we will fight for us the nurses and for our people of Victoria.

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  • michael stone

    '81% of respondents said cuts that affected patient safety, while the same percentage, 67%, said'

    Not really the point, but how is 81% the same percentage as 67% ?

    Taking action over concerns about patient safety is definitely the most ethically-valid reason - as a cynic, it can therefore be used as 'cover' by anyone whose objectives are based on different reasons.

    I still think NT should let mike do a piece on these 'we don't fight enough, and we are not sufficiently respected' issues, so that an entirely on-topic debate might (not sure how many nurses would post) can ensue on issues such as 'why are some nurses so passive ?'.

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  • @ Michael Stone

    If its the one thing that unites this profession for once then cynical or not I would be happy to use the issue of patient safety to finally see less apathy from this profession.

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  • Julie Griffin 18-oct-2011 10:00am

    I am one of those nurses that cope, and I must admit it takes me ages to complete an incident form about unsafe staffing levels and feel that this will make me even later off shift with the result of more conflict at home for yet again coming home late. I am one of those medical nurses when even when fully staffed still unable to do everything that is asked of me. I hesitate causing too much fuss as I am at the mercy of management who can make working life even more difficult by making us move wards to cover shortfalls elsewhere as it suits them. As now using bank staff and agency has to be authorised by higher management. I no longer want to be a nurse in this climate. I used to be proud to be a nurse not any more as we are unable to have any job satisfaction. I agree with what you say though Julie you are right but it is difficult to stand up for yourself when they turn the table and make you out to be incompetant. Having said all that yes I would be prepared to strike for patient safety as it is a major issue on medical wards especially.

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  • I must say that from a Student perspective this doesn't surprise me. After encouraging a debate amongst fellow third year Adult Nurse Students I found that I was in the minority who would even consider striking with several members of my cohort calling me selfish for "abandoning [my] patients for such selfish reasons as pension reforms." Many said that whilst they were unsure how it would work, they would be happy to work on November 30th to cover the shortfall. I did try to mention other issues, the poor working conditions and staffing ratios we will have to work with once qualified but many said that as this was to do with pensions they would not be interested in supporting any strike action.

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  • @Anonymous | 18-Oct-2011 11:27 am

    Can you remind your fellow students that if they are in a union such as RCN or Unison then they are not allowed to cover the shortfall according to union rules

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  • @desertdeserter

    Can you tell me why? A fellow student stated that according to the NMC third year and retired nurses were going to be asked to work on November 30th? As far as I am aware we are almost all part of a Union. I know we are being balloted as part of Unison but it's all a bit confusing (to me anyway)!

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