The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is balloting hundreds of thousands of members to strike over NHS pay for the first time in its 106-year history.
More than 300,000 members will receive ballot papers today (6 October), with the RCN urging them to vote ‘yes’ in favour.
The union has called for a pay rise of 5% above inflation to support nurses through the cost-of-living crisis.
It is in protest of the Government’s decision in July to award most NHS staff a 5% pay rise, equating to around £1,400 at least for frontline personnel.
If successful, the strikes would affect non-urgent care but not emergency care.
Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive for the RCN, said: ‘We are understaffed, undervalued and underpaid. For years our profession has been pushed to the edge, and now patient safety is paying the price. We can’t stand by and watch our colleagues and patients suffer anymore.
‘Though strike action is a last resort, it is a powerful tool for change. And we must demand that change. Enough is enough.’
She added that patient care is ‘at risk because of chronic staff shortages, but nursing staff can’t afford to join or stay in the profession’.
Ms Cullen also noted there are tens of thousands of unfilled nursing jobs across the UK.
Starting salaries for nurses in England are just above £27,000.
The RCN also published an open letter to the Prime Minister today urging Liz Truss to ‘protect nursing’.
In England, Scotland and Wales, the law states that strike ballots must attract at least a 50% turnout, with a majority vote in favour of taking strike action.
The ballot will run for four weeks, closing on 2 November.
Last month, NHS vacancies in England breached 130,000 with health leaders claiming the health service ‘simply doesn’t have enough staff’ to function.