NURSES will strike unless Chancellor Phillip Hammond ends the public-sector pay freeze in the autumn Budget, the Royal College of Nursing warned yesterday.
RCN general secretary Janet Davies issued the ultimatum to Mr Hammond, saying a failure to lift the cap would leave the union no choice other than to ballot for industrial action for the first time in its history.
Ms Davies said: “We have been working as hard as we can to make the government understand that if you want a healthy health service, we need a healthy salary for our nurses.
“If the Budget does not show the government’s clear intent to remove that pay cap, then industrial action by nurses is on the table.”
Research by the union has revealed the devastating impact of the pay freeze among NHS staff, with reports of nurses resorting to food banks.
It says there has been a real-terms pay cut of 14 per cent since 2010, which is driving nurses out of the NHS in droves, causing a recruitment and retention crisis.
Figures last month showed a staggering 86,000 vacancies in the NHS from January to March, and the RCN says that nursing remains one of the lowest-paid staff groups of all public-sector professions.
Ms Davies also raised fears that the NHS could “go under” unless European Union staff are given assurances of their future after Brexit.
She said that the government needs to give a clear message both to EU workers already here and those who want to come and work in the NHS after Britain leaves the EU.
“People will then be able to make a decision, and if they decide that they don’t want to stay, then that is a big cliff-edge — and my big fear is the NHS would go under,” Ms Davies warned.
“In some hospitals one in five members of staff are trained elsewhere in Europe and they just couldn’t cope if suddenly everyone decided to leave.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Nurses are the bedrock of the NHS and we understand the need to give certainty to valued staff from the EU.
“That is why we have made clear that the future of EU nationals working in our health and care system should be a priority in Brexit negotiations.”