Nurses’ strike ballot: a profession left with no other option

As another new government fails to offer solutions to the staffing and pay shortfalls in the NHS, many nurses feel industrial action is their only choice

The 2021 RCN Nurse of the Year Nicola Bailey (right) and her predecessor Ana Waddington Picture: Barney Newman

How are you feeling about work right now – exhausted, demoralised, undervalued?

You are not alone. From 6 October, the RCN will ballot around 300,000 nursing staff in England, Wales and Scotland on taking strike action over their government’s poor pay offer. Nurses in Northern Ireland are yet to be offered a pay increase but will still join the ballot.

Ballot on action shows how nurses have been pushed to the brink

Many union members are saying they have never considered taking action before, but now feel they have no other choice.

Among those voting ‘yes’ in the ballot are two recipients of the RCN Nurse of the Year award, the current title holder Nicola Bailey and 2020’s Ana Waddington. In heart-wrenching accounts written for Nursing Standard they describe how they have been driven to despair by the pressures of working in the NHS they love, and why they think they must stand up for better pay for nurses and support for patients.

Their words could be any nurse’s. They represent how nursing professionals have been pushed to the brink and into a position no one wants to be in.

New government, but no new solutions for nurses

The new prime minister and (yet another) health and social care secretary have only reinforced the feeling that government does not understand nursing, with the former dismissing nurses’ use of foodbanks and the latter failing to even list the NHS’s largest staffing group as a priority.

Yet the government underestimates nurses and public support for action at its peril. Recent polling by YouGov showed 64% of those questioned support nurses going on strike and three quarters feel there are not enough nurses (hardly, a surprise, with a nurse vacancy figure of 47,000).

Safety net for members who choose to strike

Nurses in Northern Ireland went on strike in 2019, while still maintaining patient safety, and ultimately won pay parity and a commitment to safe staffing.

This time around, the RCN’s strike fund will ensure any nurse left out of pocket as a result of participating in strike action will receive £50 per day of action.

This will not be an easy fight, but to nurses like Ana Waddington and Nicola Bailey continuing on the present course looks a lot worse.

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