NHS England has instructed ICBs to take part in a ‘multi-day’ test to prepare for potential strike action and coinciding winter pressures.
In a letter sent to ICB chiefs (1 November), NHSE warned that the system must prepare for ‘any potential industrial action’ to minimise disruption to emergency services and patient care.
To this effect, ICBs will need to take part in a multi-day scenario – dubbed ‘Exercise Arctic Willow’ – to ‘explore the health and social care response to multiple, concurrent operational and winter pressures’, beginning the week of 14 November.
It comes as a suite of unions ballot – or intend to ballot – their NHS members to take part in strike action over the 2022/23 pay award.
NHSE said that although the Government is leading on negotiations, it is ‘vital’ that local level staff maintain ‘constructive relationships with trade unions and staff representatives’.
It asked the ICBs help coordinate planning via Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response (EPRR) functions and their system control centres: ICB-level ‘war rooms’ announced two weeks ago.
Last month, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) urged its 300,000 members to vote in favour of striking, having called for a pay rise of 5% above inflation to support nurses through the cost-of-living crisis.
That ballot closes today (2 November).
And just last week, Unison asked its 350,000 NHS employees to vote for strike action over pay this winter.
It warned that ministers have ‘no option but to build upon’ £1,400 pay rise awarded to health workers in England earlier in the summer, if they are to meet new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s claims he wants to strengthen the NHS.
Unison’s ballot of NHS staff in England and Wales closes on 25 November, with the Northern Ireland strike ballot closing a week before.
In Scotland, Unison suspended its planned NHS strike ballot for health workers in the country and is consulting on a revised pay offer.
And our sister title Pulse reported in September that the BMA is setting up its first-ever ‘strike fund’ in preparation for potential ballots on industrial action by junior doctors and other types of doctors.