RCN leader says nurses in England being “punished and left behind” by Sunak

Morgan Jones

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen has said nurses in England are being “punished and left behind” as a result of the government’s failure to resolve a dispute with the union over pay and conditions.

Speaking to Sky News this morning, Cullen accused the government of having “turned its back” on English nurses, highlighting that, in Scotland and Wales, both governments “have got to the table and started to negotiate”.

The RCN announced on Friday that it was calling off planned strikes in Wales this week following a new pay offer from the Welsh government.

The Welsh government said it had offered health unions an extra 3% on top of the existing 4.5% pay increase, of which half is one-off and half consolidated, which would be backdated to April 2022.

Commenting on Friday, Cullen said: “We are making good on our commitment to cancel strikes when ministers negotiate and make pay offers to our members. First in Scotland, and now in Wales too.

“If the Prime Minister decides to leave England’s nurses as the lowest paid in the UK, he must expect this strike to continue. He can still turn things around before Monday. Start talking seriously and the strikes are off.”

The union head argued this morning that Rishi Sunak has chosen “striking over talking” and stressed that starting negotiations is his “prerogative”. The union leader added: “I will talk to him at any time of the day or night.”

Cullen told ITV’s Good Morning Britain today that she had not heard from anyone in the government in “weeks” and that she had had no acknowledgement of a letter sent to the Prime Minister on Saturday, which stated that a “meaningful” pay offer from ministers could avert this week’s strike action.

Cullen rejected claims that the strikes have left patients at risk, stressing: “Nurses are not reckless.” She said the RCN had “ensured that emergency and urgent care continues”, as well as “urgent” cancer treatments.

Cullen called on Sunak to “do the right thing for patients” and “for the profession”, adding: “Let’s address the 47,000 vacant nursing posts, let’s return the 35,000 nurses that left last year in England alone.”

The RCN launched a strike ballot following the government’s decision in July to award most NHS staff a 5% pay rise. The union has argued that nurses should receive a pay rise of 5% above inflation.

The government has repeatedly claimed that the RCN’s pay demand is “unaffordable”. Health Secretary Steve Barclay has argued that such a pay rise is not possible “given the many other economic pressures that we face”.

Tens of thousands of nurses have so far taken strike action over a series of dates in December and January. Ambulance workers represented by the GMB and Unite are also on strike today, with UNISON members striking later in the week.

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