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Largest nursing strike starts in six ICBs

Largest nursing strike starts in six ICBs
By Jess Hacker
15 December 2022

As many as 100,000 nurses are taking part in strikes in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, including at six ICBs.

It comes after the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and health secretary Steve Barclay reached a stalemate over pay negotiations earlier this week.

A second strike day is planned to take place next week on 20 December, with further strike days expected to come in January if no negotiations are held.

Industrial action this month will take place at six ICBs – despite nearly half of ICBs meeting the mandate for strike action – including:

  • Nottingham and Nottinghamshire ICB
  • Hertfordshire and West Essex ICB
  • North Central London ICB
  • Devon ICB
  • Birmingham and Solihull ICB
  • And Bath, North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire (BSW) ICB.

Nottingham ICB and BSW ICB both issued statements to patients, including FAQs detailing which services and appointments patients should still attend.

The former told all patients with an appointment to attend as planned unless they have been contacted to reschedule, and it reminded patients that GP services will not be affected.

Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary and chief executive, 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 any more, 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.’

Jerry Cope, former chair of the NHS Pay Review Body, told the Today Programme that ministers should ask the body to reconsider their recommendations due to the huge rise in inflation.

He said: ‘The pay review body may say to ministers: “No we considered everything fully last time, we don’t wish to add anything.”

‘But if it’s to be a fair and independent process in these extraordinary circumstances we’ve got at the moment, I think it does probably require a slightly left-of-field approach.’

Sir Chris Ham, co-chair of the NHS Assembly, agreed, flagging that the recommendation was made earlier this year and so has not accounted for the latest data on inflation, which had not informed its initial decision.

UNISON, Unite and the GMB also confirmed that their ambulance staff members will take part in strike action on Wednesday 21 December.

Speaking at King’s Fund conference today, NHS England’s elective recovery chief Sir Jim Mackey said that the ambulance strike is ‘a completely different order of magnitude of risk’ when compared to the nursing strike and that the cause for worry seems to be due to the ‘complexity and fragility of urgent care’.

He added that if NHS England were to give national guidance on elective activity, the ‘only guidance we could give would be to cancel absolutely everything, and that’s really not going to help anybody’.

He said that the case for a blanket order would only be considered ‘as an absolute last resort’.

GPs in London have been asked to provide clinical cover for ambulance staff during the strike action, but the BMA has urged GPs not to step in, suggesting it reveals how out of touch NHS leaders were with the crisis.

Diverting GPs and other practice staff risks putting patients at harm, increasing waiting times and harming the wellbeing of already overstretched general practice teams, acting chair of GPC England Dr Kieran Sharrock said.

All 42 ICBs launched their system control centres (SCCs) – dubbed ‘war rooms’ – at the start of December, each charged with strategizing to maintain services through strike action.

ICSs were tasked with taking part in a ‘multi-day’ test in November to prepare for staff taking to the picket line.

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