Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union have voted for strike action which will most likely happen before Christmas and NHS hospitals have said they will do all they can to “minimise harm to patients.”
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation who represents most NHS organisations that there are plans to minimise the impact on patients, however there will be thousands of appointments and operations that will be cancelled.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast Taylor said, “Clearly industrial action is a challenge for the health service and NHS leaders.
“We’re already coping with the gap that exists between the demand that is currently on the health service from the public.
“We’ve got to meet that demand, and we all know that we are heading into what already is a very difficult winter.
“Then we add industrial action into that and it’s going to be an extremely difficult job.
“The priority will be to try to minimise patient harm.”
He said the RCN has promised to maintain emergency and critical care “but there will be an impact if there is industrial action in terms of cancelled appointments, cancelled procedures, and NHS leaders will do everything we can to minimise that and to ensure that patients are kept informed of what is happening.”
Taylor was then asked over the current state of nursing in the NHS, he said, “we are acutely aware of the fact that health workers take industrial action as a last resort – it’s very rare.”
Taylor said the main issue is primarily over pay, however, “it’s important to understand that, whenever you speak to nurses, they will say pay is part of the challenge but it’s also about workload, about the fact that there are nearly 50,000 nurse vacancies across the NHS.
“Even if there wasn’t any industrial action, we would still have a really big issue about how we recruit, how we retain and how we motivate staff in the NHS.”
Patricia Marquis, RCN director for England, told BBC Breakfast that NHS services are not safe and that the government has “failed to listen” to nurses.
She warned that some services will have to continue to keep patients safe during the strike, saying, “and we will agree with employers what those are and which staff should be working.”
She said that employers across the UK needed 14 days notice of intended strike action, she added, “What I can say is that we intend to take action certainly before the end of this year.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said their decision to strike is “disappointing” and he insisted the RCN’s demands are “out of step” with the current economic situation.