Comment

Janet Youd - The bigger picture

I am writing this column as talks continue between the government and the British Medical Association (BMA) to resolve the ongoing dispute over the junior doctor contract. Further industrial action, involving a strike by junior doctors this month, is still on the cards.

I am writing this column as talks continue between the government and the British Medical Association (BMA) to resolve the ongoing dispute over the junior doctor contract. Further industrial action, involving a strike by junior doctors this month, is still on the cards.

Planning and preparation is underway to ensure patient safety is compromised as little as possible and that there is not too much inconvenience to other healthcare staff.

Nevertheless, if the action on February 10 is a walkout, patients will be affected. Even though emergency care will be provided, there are concerns about the potential inability to provide timely patient interventions at ward level leading to exit block,

Clearly, BMA members think that they are justified in taking action given that 98% of balloted members have registered their support, but would nurses be so united in their response? Past events suggests not. Although there is no legal restriction on nurses undertaking strike action, RCN members have never done so. That said, strong feelings were expressed on both sides of a debate on strike action at last year’s RCN congress, highlighting a divide in nurses’ opinions.

But does this represent a behavioural difference between doctors and nurses? Or have nurses not yet reached ‘breaking point’? How would we vote if extra remuneration for weekend and night working is withdrawn, or if contracted hours were increased? How would any action accord with our requirement to behave in a professional manner at all times?

Protecting the public

All registered nurses must act in accordance with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) code and, although the NMC does not prohibit nurses from undertaking industrial action, it does state: ‘We exist to protect the public by regulating nurses and midwives in the UK. All nurses and midwives must adhere to the code, which outlines their responsibilities as regulated professionals.

‘The code does not prevent nurses and midwives from taking part in lawful industrial action but we remind them of their duty to uphold their professional standards at all times. The code will continue to apply in the event of industrial action.’

How can strike action be congruent with the code’s four themes of prioritising people, practising effectively, preserving safety, and promoting professionalism and trust?

Yet nurses are humans with families to provide for, a profession to be proud of and rights to protect.

If we choose not to take industrial action in the future, will our desire to avoid harm to patients make our profession appear divided and biddable? Or will it prompt respect for our adherence to the values of our professional code?

About the author

Janet Youd is chair of the RCN Emergency Care Association.

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