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'Work as normal during doctors' strike', nurses are told

Both the British Medical Association and the Department of Health remain open to talks to avert threatened walkouts next week but if they do take place, nurses should not perform any duty outside of their normal contract of employment

Nurses should continue doing their jobs as usual if industrial action by junior doctors over new contracts goes ahead from next week as planned.

However, the RCN has warned them against covering the work of striking colleagues if it falls outside their skillset or contract. 

Doctors plan to walk out on Tuesday December 1 at 8am – with only those specialising in emergency medicine continuing to work – and will not return until 8am on Wednesday.

The action is part of an ongoing dispute over new contracts that seek to change hours and pay structures, which doctors say are unfair for them and unsafe for patients, under a push towards a 24/7 NHS.

More than 76% of the 50,000 junior doctors in England took part in a ballot that closed last week, with 98% indicating they were prepared to take industrial action, including strikes.

A British Medical Association (BMA) spokesperson said: ‘We proposed going to the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) but this offer was rejected by the government.

‘It does seem as though trust has broken between both sides, so we want to get back round the table and reach an agreement with the help of a third party. If that doesn’t happen this week, then strike action will go ahead as planned next week.’

However, a Department of Health spokesperson denied rejecting any BMA offer of ACAS talks and insisted: ‘We absolutely want talks and negotiations as fast as possible. Nothing is ruled out as far as we are concerned.’

No dates for ACAS or any other negotiations have been arranged and two further walkouts, which will include emergency care doctors, are planned for Tuesday December 8 and Wednesday December 16.

Amid the uncertainty, the RCN is directing nurses to its guidance for industrial action by other health or medical professionals issued last year. It advises nurses to perform their duties as normal.

The advice reads: ‘Members, including agency staff and students, should attend work as normal – failure to do so will be seen as a breach of contract.’

In response to a specific question about what a nurse who might be asked to cover the job of a striking doctor should do, it adds: ‘The RCN would not wish its members to undermine the lawful industrial action of another trade union or professional association.

‘Members should not cover the work of colleagues undertaking industrial action if that work falls outside their contract of employment or their own personal competencies.’

A RCN spokesperson said the guidance might be updated in the coming days. 

For the latest see the RCN website

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