Nurses in England will go back on strike this month if RCN members reject ministers’ latest pay offer, with officials saying the result of the three-week ballot is too close to call.
The Royal College of Nursing will announce the results of its vote on Friday after a lengthy consultation period in which many members have opposed the recommendation of union leaders to accept the government’s proposed deal.
Sources close to the union said the vote is so close that it has been forced to make contingency plans for a no vote. Those plans would mean the NHS in England would be hit by another wave of nursing strikes, starting within weeks and going on for what union officials say would be a prolonged period of time.
The RCN said: “Voting is still open and we have no result. Every member is asked to vote by 9am Friday and an announcement of the final result will take place during the day.”
But sources said the result is expected to be far closer than union leaders had hoped, after a bitter fight between them and many of the RCN’s members. The Guardian revealed earlier this month that the union had asked the police to investigate after some of its members launched a petition for a no-confidence vote in its leadership, which officials said showed signs of false signatures.
Unison is also expected to announce the results of its vote on the pay offer on Friday, though will not decide whether to go back on strike until after its health conference in Bournemouth next week.
The union began its consultation last month after bosses agreed an offer with the health secretary, Steve Barclay, following months of strikes and weeks of negotiations.
Under the terms of that deal, staff are set to receive a one-off 2% salary uplift and 4% Covid recovery bonus for the current year, and then a permanent 5% pay rise from April.
Many of the union’s members have been unhappy however at the terms of the deal, not least because inflation remains above 10%. The Guardian reported last month that members had organised a well-orchestrated campaign to defeat the agreement, with some nurses calling the offer “insulting”.
If the union rejects the offer, it will announce strikes immediately, according to those close to the RCN. One said: “If that happens the RCN will come out very quickly rather than taking time to consider next steps. The mandate finishes in early May so there isn’t time to waste.”
Barclay said: “This offer will give nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists and other non-medical staff a fair pay rise while protecting our commitment to halve inflation.
“We have engaged in constructive and meaningful discussions with unions and NHS employers, and I look forward to continuing our work together to make the NHS a better place to work.”