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HEALTH Secretary Therese Coffey stunned nurses today by casually dismissing any prospect of an improved pay rise whatever the outcome of their union’s historic strike ballot.
More than 300,000 nurses, who are members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), began voting on strike action on Monday for the first time in the college’s 106-year history.
The government has proposed a 3 per cent pay rise — another real-terms pay cut — for a workforce hailed as heroes and heroines during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But Ms Coffey, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, said “I’m not anticipating that we’ll be making any further changes” and that taking strike action is “a decision for nurses who decide how to vote in this next coming month.”
RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: “This is an astonishing admission from the health secretary. She has already decided that she won’t be listening to our half a million members. Ms Coffey has her head firmly in the sand.
“Nurses and support workers hearing this will be angry but it will make them even more determined.
“Members should find their ballot papers today and show the health secretary we have a strong voice that she cannot dismiss.
“Ignoring nursing staff is akin to ignoring patients. We have overwhelming public support for the government to do what’s fair by nursing staff and what’s needed for safe patient care.”
Ms Cullen said that the government’s offer of a 3 per cent wage rise “makes a difference to a nurse’s wage of 72p a week.”
The ballot comes against a background of tens of thousands of nurses quitting the NHS because of falling pay and unmanageable workloads – the NHS has more than 40,000 nurse vacancies.
The RCN is arguing for higher pay and immediate action to tackle the staff shortages.
RCN’s sister union, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), is also to ballot its members in England and Wales on strike action next month.
Midwives in Scotland are already balloting.
RCM general executive director Suzanne Tyler said: “Our members feel undervalued, underpaid and are now angry that the government has not listened.”
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