THE Welsh Government has acknowledged that there are contingency preparations in place in the event that nurses and other NHS personnel go on strike. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is likely to declare before the end of the week that its members have decided to strike over wages.
Other unions of healthcare workers, such as ambulance personnel, hospital porters, and cleaners, are also voting on industrial action. Later this month, Unison and the GMB will report poll results, while physiotherapists and midwives will shortly begin voting.
It was announced earlier this year that NHS employees on Agenda for Change contracts would receive a $1,400 raise, a decision characterised as “pitiful and demeaning.” Helen Whyley, director of RCN Wales, wrote a letter to Eluned Morgan, minister of health for the Welsh government, informing her that she is “ready and waiting” to begin negotiations on a better salary offer.
“As we head into winter, we know that the situation within NHS Wales is deeply concerning with risks to patients from insufficient nursing staff and a struggling exhausted workforce,” said Ms Whyley. “The RCN believes that the public deserves better and the way to retain and attract nursing staff is to reward them appropriately for their knowledge, skills, and commitment. This must start with an above-inflation pay rise.
“RCN Wales believes strike action is a last resort but one that has been reached due to the Welsh Government’s continual denial and inaction on addressing the issues facing nursing staff which are comprising patient care. NHS Wales spent £133.4m on nursing and midwifery agencies in 2021/2022, this was an increase of 41% compared to the previous year. This over reliance on agency nursing is a stark fact that demonstrates how this government must act immediately to attract and retain nurses.”
She added: “In my letter, I have urged the Health Minister to consider her responsibilities for the nursing workforce in NHS Wales. A recent YouGov Poll in Wales showed that 85% of the public support a pay rise for nurses – all those people are potential NHS Wales patients.
“The Welsh Government must find local solutions to the problems that impact the people of Wales and find ways to protect our NHS services. RCN Wales is ready and waiting to open discussions with the Minister if she has a genuine commitment to improving the current pay award.”
According to RCN Wales there are currently 3,000 registered nurse vacancies in NHS Wales, up from 1,719 in 2021.
When asked whether contingency plans were in place in the event of strike action, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Planning has been taking place within the NHS since the RCN ballot was announced. We will work with NHS organisations and health boards on their contingency plans.”
Oliver Dowden, minister of the Cabinet Office for the United Kingdom, stated that, in the case of strike action in England, the National Health Service would prioritise the most necessary services, while acknowledging that this would have an impact on other activity.
“We have well-oiled contingencies in place and the Department of Health is across how we would deal with a scenario like this should it arise,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme. “We will make sure we prioritise the most essential services – emergency services and so on. But of course there would be an impact as a result of a strike like that.
“I would continue to urge nurses and others to resist going out on strike even if they have voted to do so. We have already agreed quite considerable support for nurses. Of course, if you are in the situation where you have a large number of nurses going out on strike, of course that is going to have an impact for example on some elective surgery and other activities.”