Strikes: minimum staffing levels could be ‘discriminatory’
RCN also says the ‘provocative, draconian new law tries to stop nurses from speaking up for patients’ and urges the government to focus instead on addressing nursing shortages
Government plans to introduce minimum staffing levels in hospitals during strikes could be ‘discriminatory’ and will provoke further clashes with the nursing profession, the RCN has warned.
The proposals could also mean wards will be more safely staffed on strike days than on non-strike days as the NHS continues to grapple with year-round nurse shortages, the college added.
Law could prevent nurses from raising safety concerns, says RCN
In its official response to a government consultation on minimum service levels in hospitals during strike action, the RCN said the Strike (Minimum Service Levels) Act would prevent nurses from speaking out and raising concerns about patient safety.
Given nearly 90% of the nursing workforce is female – and with a high proportion of nurses being from minority ethnic backgrounds – any attempt to limit their freedom to strike could be seen as ‘discriminatory’ and in breach of human rights law, warned the RCN.
The college said the government should instead focus on addressing widespread nursing shortages that were affecting day-to-day care – which was part of the reason nurses felt compelled to strike.
What minimum service levels mean for nurses
Plans for minimum service levels in hospitals were put out for consultation following the introduction of controversial anti-strike laws earlier this year. The deadline for responses was 14 November.
Under the plans, hospitals will be expected to continue providing urgent and emergency treatment during official industrial action, as well as caring for existing inpatients as normal. Some nurses could be forced to work during strikes or face the sack or disciplinary action.
The RCN said overseas nursing staff, who represent almost one fifth of the nursing workforce, would be disproportionately affected because of the risk of losing visas and UK residency.
College says ‘nursing staff will never be silenced’
RCN chief nurse Nicola Ranger warned that the government was ‘setting itself on a collision course with nursing staff’.
‘At its heart, this provocative, draconian new law tries to stop them from speaking up for their patients – and makes strike action more likely. Nursing staff will never be silenced,’ she said.
Professor Ranger added that the RCN would continue to campaign against anti-strike measures and would push for the act to be repealed in its entirety.
Work notices for staff during strikes
Last week the government published new guidance on issuing work notices to nurses and other public sector workers who were required to work on strike days.
Under the law, unions such as the RCN must take ‘reasonable steps’ to ensure staff issued with a work notice do show up, including advising them not to strike – or risk damages claims from employers.
Business minister Kevin Hollinrake said: ‘The ability to strike needs to be balanced with ensuring people continue to have access to essential services.’
The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.
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