Government to take nurses' union to court to block 48-hour nurses' strike after NHS appeal

21 April 2023, 19:34

Steve Barclay is taking strike action
Steve Barclay is taking strike action against the nurses' union. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

The health secretary is taking legal action against the nurses' union to block an upcoming four-day strike, after the NHS said the mandate for industrial will run out during the walkouts.

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Steve Barclay said he would "ask the courts to declare the Royal College of Nursing's upcoming strike action planned for 30 April to May 2 to be unlawful".

RCN members working in the NHS in England at workplaces with a mandate are preparing to take strike action from 8pm or the start of the night shift on April 30 to 8pm or the start of the night shift on May 2.

But NHS employers has told the RCN that it believes the six-month mandate for strike action has run out.

Mr Barclay said: "The government firmly believes in the right to strike, but it is vital that any industrial action is lawful and I have no choice but to take action.

Steve Barclay
Steve Barclay. Picture: Getty

"Strike action with no national exemptions agreed, including for emergency and cancer care, will also put patient safety at risk.

"This legal action also seeks to protect nurses, who could otherwise be asked to take part in unlawful activity, that could in turn put their professional registration at risk, and would breach the requirements set out in the nursing code of conduct."

It comes after NHS Employers asked Mr Barclay to take legal action, having also requested that the RCN "revisit the strike action".

Chief executive Danny Mortimer said:"This is because we have received legal advice, including from lead counsel, that indicates that the six month period in which industrial action can be taken expires at midnight on 1st May 2023.  The RCN has however rejected our view. 

Striking nurses
Striking nurses. Picture: Getty

"Given the concern that the RCN may be asking its members to take strike action which does not enjoy legal protection, I have this afternoon written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care asking him to intervene and to seek the view of the courts as to whether the notices of action issued to relevant NHS organisations for 30th April to 2nd May 2023 fall within the law governing industrial action.”

Read more: Nurses to stage fresh wave of strikes on bank holiday after rejecting Government's 5% pay offer

Read more: 'You're putting more lives at risk' unions warned as NHS strikes risk causing 'worst day of disruption yet'

Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary and chief executive, said: "The decision of the NHS not to take this further is the right one but ministers need to decide whether to silence nurses.

"Bullying nurses and dragging us through the highest courts would not be a good look for Government. It would show utter contempt for nursing staff. We will make the case for the legality of our action in all forums."

The nurses' latest strike plans come after they rejected the Government's pay offer of 5%.

The move followed a 54% vote to reject an offer of a 5% pay rise this year and a cash payment for last year.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen wrote to Health Secretary Steve Barclay to inform him of the fresh strike action before the end of the month, and seek urgent re-opening of talks with the Government.

The new strike will also involve nursing staff working in emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other services that were previously exempt, the RCN said.

The letter to Mr Barclay said: "What has been offered to date is simply not enough. The Government needs to increase what has already been offered and we will be highly critical of any move to reduce it.

"Since our talks in February, we have seen the pressures on the NHS continue to increase."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."

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