Nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will strike on Tuesday in an ongoing dispute with the government over pay and patient safety concerns.
Up to 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will take part after it elected members in October. It has said low pay is the cause of chronic understaffing which puts patients at risk and overworked NHS staff.
It will be the second day of strike action in December, following a first day of industrial action on December 15, the RCN’s biggest in its history. It meant the cancellation of thousands of outpatient appointments and non-emergency operations.
More strikes have been threatened in January unless talks between union negotiators and the government take place before Thursday, 48 hours after the strike on Tuesday.
RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: “For many of us this is our first time striking and our emotions are really mixed. The NHS is in crisis, the nursing profession can’t take it anymore, our loved ones are already suffering.
– It is not unreasonable to demand better. This is not something that can wait. We are committed to our patients and always will be.”
Nurses in Scotland were due to strike but were called off after a pay offer from Holyrood. The proposal was put to members in Scotland in November and a result is expected this week after the ballot closed on Monday.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said ministers in Cardiff had decided against offering nurses more than the 4% and 5.5% they had already been offered.
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is said to have written to unions to ask for new talks in England, but will not discuss increased pay. A one-off payment to staff had been proposed but rejected by Downing Street.
“The Health Secretary is determined to do what is needed to keep patients and the public safe in the face of industrial disputes,” a Department of Health and Social Care source told the Observer.
Union leaders have said future hospital strikes could be more serious, with nurses offering “less generous” support in there.
The two strike dates in December have seen some services protected from withdrawal, including chemotherapy, dialysis, intensive care and high dependency units and neonatal and pediatric intensive care.
Ruth May, England’s chief nursing officer – a senior figure at NHS England – visited strikers last week. She said she wanted the government to work with unions to reach an agreement on wages.
It comes during a month that has been peppered with strike action across the UK, including by NHS staff including ambulance workers, as well as train staff and Royal Mail staff.
Ambulance workers will stage another strike on Wednesday, involving up to 10,000 staff. Union officials have suggested that paramedics, call handlers and emergency room assistants would walk off the lines for the most serious cases.
Those who are members of GMB will then strike again on 28 December.
Ambulance service staff in Scotland also called off a planned strike after Unite and Unison members agreed to a new offer, with a new minimum hourly rate.