Members of the Royal College of Nursing are to go on strike again after they voted against the latest government pay offer.
The result comes despite a recommendation from union leaders that they accept it and means there will be a round-the-clock 48-hour strike – without exemptions – from 8pm on 30 April to 8pm on 2 May.
And it comes shortly after members of Unison voted to accept the government’s latest pay deal.
For the first time, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) strike will involve staff working in emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other services that were previously exempt from industrial action.
More than six in 10 of eligible members took part in the ballot, with 54% voting to reject the government’s offer, on a 61% turnout. Some 46% voted to accept the offer.
RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said she had written to the government to notify it of “imminent” strike action, as well as a new ballot and a request for a fresh round of talks.
In a letter to Health Secretary Steve Barclay, Ms Cullen said what nurses had been offered was “simply not enough”.
“Since our talks in February, we have seen the pressures on the NHS continue to increase,” she said.
“The crisis in our health and care services cannot be addressed without significant action that addresses urgent recruitment and retention issues and nursing pay to bring this dispute to a close urgently.
“Until there is a significantly improved offer, we are forced back to the picket line. Meetings alone are not sufficient to prevent strike action and I will require an improved offer as soon as possible. In February, you opened negotiations directly with me and I urge you to do the same now.
“After a historic vote to strike, our members expect a historic pay award.”
The development will come as a blow to the government, which hoped a settlement with nurses would pave the way for breakthroughs in other sectors gripped by industrial action.
Instead, there is the likelihood of further strikes over the summer months after teachers also voted to reject the government’s offer and junior doctors continue to strike in an increasingly bitter struggle over pay.
However, the RCN’s rejection does not mean the deal is completely dead. While the RCN represents most nurses in the NHS in England, members of Unison today voted to accept the pay deal.
In its ballot of 288,000 NHS workers across England, almost three quarters voted to accept the offer, while 26% voted to reject it on a turnout of 53%.
Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton said that while health workers “would have wanted more…this was the best that could be achieved through negotiation”.
Under the deal, Unison health workers will receive an additional one-off payment for the year 2022/23, along with a 5% pay rise for 2023/24 -10.4% for the lowest paid.
The pay deal rejected by RCN members would have seen nurses awarded a one-off payment of 2% of their salary, plus a COVID recovery bonus of 4% for the current financial year and 5% for the year after.
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, previously explained that, under the offer, a newly qualified nurse would have received more than £1,800 this year on top of a pay rise of more than £1,300 next year.
Unison, GMB and Unite the Union all also represent nurses in some capacity, as well as paramedics, 999 call handlers, midwives, security guards and cleaners.
According to the RCN, if the majority of members across all unions vote to accept the deal, then the government could still implement it.
The dispute is separate from the junior doctors row. Ministers have repeatedly insisted they will not enter into talks with the British Medical Association (BMA) until the union drops its demand for a 35% pay rise for junior doctors.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said it would be a “terrible mistake” for the government to agree to the BMA’s demand on the grounds that it would fuel inflation.
Junior doctors have been on strike since Tuesday and will remain on the picket line until Saturday morning.
The BMA, which represents junior doctors, said a 35% rise would restore pay in real terms back to 2008 levels.
The health union has said it has “no preconditions” to meet ministers for pay negotiations, but the Department of Health and Social Care wants it to call off strikes and drop its “unreasonable” pay demand.
Meanwhile, the next teacher strikes are set to go ahead on 27 April and 2 May after members of the National Education Union (NEU) turned down the government’s proposed pay deal.
Some 98% of those who voted rejected it.
The government said it had offered teachers a £1,000 payment for the current school year – on top of an average 5.4% rise last September – plus an average 4.5% rise next year.