Nurse strikes in Wales to go ahead as last-minute talks with unions collapse
Nursing strikes are set to go ahead in Wales after last-minute talks to resolve the dispute over pay collapsed.
The Welsh Government and a number of unions – including the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) – met on Monday afternoon, but failed to reach an agreement.
In July, following the recommendation of the NHS pay review body, a flat pay increase of £1,400 was announced for nurses, cleaners, porters, healthcare support workers and healthcare professionals, on most Agenda for Change pay bands.
However, unions have repeatedly argued that the pay rise, which is as much as 10.8% for those in the lowest paid roles, was not enough.
The RCN claim the pay award still leaves workers £1,000 worse off in real terms compared with 10 years ago.
RCN Wales director Helen Whyley accused the government of being “reckless” with patient safety and of calling a meeting despite them having “no intention of coming to a resolution”.
Ms Whyley said: “Low pay is fanning the flames of a workforce crisis and the rising number of registered nurse vacancies is already putting patients at risk.
“The pressure means nurses are caught between their responsibilities to their patients, their families, and their own health.
“If the Welsh Government is serious about patient safety, they must act now. Nursing staff must be paid fairly for the safety critical work they do.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the difficult position of those who work in the NHS in Wales and the strength of feeling. However, without additional funding from the UK Government we are not able to make an increased pay offer without risking a reduction in services.
“Whilst we were unable to avert the forthcoming industrial action, all partners have agreed to keep talking and to continue to work together on key issues.”
The first nurse strike will take place on December 15, and should no resolution be found afterwards, a second strike day will take place on December 20.
The strikes are expected to cause mass disruption, with thousands of routine operations and non-emergency appointments cancelled.
Some services are exempt from strike action and will run as normal including chemotherapy, dialysis, intensive care and high dependency units, neonatal intensive care, paediatric intensive care, and accident and emergency departments.
Health boards in Wales remain in discussion with the RCN about the possibility of adding other services to the derogation list.
All other services are expected to run at Christmas Day or bank holiday levels of staffing, with the minimum number of staff required to ensure patient safety.
In the event of a major incident, health boards can raise it with the committees set up with the RCN to have staff returned to work.
Welsh health boards are not allowed to use agency workers to cover striking staff, unless those agency staff were already due to work prior to industrial action being announced.
It is expected, however, that health boards will attempt to put on extra capacity over the next few weeks in between strike days to see those patients whose appointments or surgeries were cancelled.
NHS Wales has said anyone needing emergency care on strike days should still go to get treated while the advice for any non-emergency queries will be to call 111 or use the digital platforms in the first instance.
UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay was also expected to meet with nursing leaders on Monday despite the Government’s position on pay remaining unchanged.
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