When will nurses strike and why are they striking?

Nurses across the UK have voted to strike for the first time in their history

A protester holding a placard saying 'Fair Pay for Nurses'
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) have voted to strike for the first time in their 106-year history. The decision has left many anxious to know when will nurses strike?

The ongoing cost of living crisis has caused discontent to mount across the UK, with Royal Mail strikes (opens in new tab) set to continue throughout the winter, along with train strikes (opens in new tab) causing repeated disruption on the railways. Now, nurses have voted to strike too, and with hospitals all over the UK likely to be affected, the public are concerned about the impact of the industrial action.

Just like many have been asking how much do train drivers earn (opens in new tab) in the wake of disruption to the transport system, people are now asking similar questions about nurses' pay scales, and are eager to know more about why they are taking action and what will happen on the strike days.

When will nurses strike?

The Royal College of Nursing (opens in new tab) has confirmed that nurses will strike before Christmas, and it is expected that industrial action will run into next year, as the strike mandate will continue until May 2023.

The RCN has not yet announced the exact date of the first strike, but it's expected to be in early to mid-December and that it will take place over two days. It is likely to be the first of a prolonged period of industrial action from the union.

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RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen (opens in new tab) has said: "Anger has become action – our members are saying enough is enough." She urged ministers to meet the RCN's demands in order to avoid strike action, saying, "While we plan our strike action, next week’s budget is the UK government’s opportunity to signal a new direction with serious investment. Across the country, politicians have the power to stop this now and at any point."

Health minister Steve Barclay (opens in new tab) has responded to the announcement of strike action, and has said that while he is "hugely grateful" for nurses' hard work, he "deeply regrets" that some union members have voted for industrial action.

He added: "These are challenging times, which is why we accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body in full and have given over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year. This is on top of a 3% pay increase last year when public sector pay was frozen and wider government support with the cost of living."

Nurses in every service in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted for action, while in Wales all but one health board did. In England, however, the turnout was too low in nearly half of NHS trusts for strike action to take place.

How many nurses voted to strike?

The RCN has not disclosed how its 300,000 members voted, or how many of them were balloted.

However, a statement on the union's website says: "Overall results show members at the majority of NHS employers across the UK have voted to take strike action in their fight for fair pay and safe staffing. Strikes will now take place at the NHS trusts or health boards that have met the relevant legal requirements."

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What will happen when nurses strike?

At UK hospitals where nurses voted to strike, services will have to be scaled back. The action won't affect all hospitals, however, because at least 50% of the members at each trust must have either taken part in the workplace-based ballot or backed the strikes in order for the action to go ahead.

NHS bosses in England have said they will prioritise A&E and emergency surgery during the strikes, but hospitals will be offering a similar service to that which they provide during a weekend or bank holiday. This means that treatments such as planned operations, outpatient appointments, chemotherapy sessions and kidney dialysis are likely to be postponed.

However, minimum staffing levels will be adhered to on strike days and determined by the life-preserving care model - which ensures that that emergency treatment and care still takes place and that patient lives are not put at risk - while the RCN has said that strike action will be carried out legally and safely at all times. 

Steve Barclay has said: "Our priority is keeping patients safe during any strikes. The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate."

Why are nurses striking?

Nurses are striking over pay. They are campaigning for a pay rise of 5% above inflation, to overcome real-terms pay cuts and to support nurses through the cost-of-living crisis.

Experienced nurses’ salaries have fallen by 20% in real terms since 2010, according to research the RCN commissioned from the consultancy London Economics (opens in new tab), meanwhile the government has refused to increase an offer it made in July of a pay increase of at least £1,400 to roughly a million people working in the NHS in England - which is worth between 4% and 5%.

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In Scotland, RCN members voted to strike after rejecting a £2,200 pay increase from Scottish ministers, which would increase the pay of a newly qualified nurse by about 8%. The union said it would still mean a real-terms cut for a large majority of nurses,  and that they wanted at least 10% across the board. However, Scotland’s acting finance secretary, John Swinney (opens in new tab), has said the government could not afford higher public sector pay deals unless services were cut.

How much are nurses paid?

NHS nurses pay is operated on a banding system, meaning salaries vary massively depending on what band a nurse is in and how many years of experience they have.

According to nurses.co.uk (opens in new tab), a qualified nurse in the UK - which starts at Band 5 - can earn anywhere between £27,055 up to as much as £109,475 for the most qualified and experienced nurses in Band 9. 

Which NHS trusts will strike?

England

  • Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
  • Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust
  • Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust
  • Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust
  • East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust
  • Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust
  • Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust
  • Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust
  • Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust
  • Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
  • Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
  • Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust
  • Hounslow and Richmond Community Healthcare NHS Trust
  • St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust
  • Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust
  • University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust
  • Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust
  • Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Found Trust
  • Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Found Trust
  • The Christie NHS Foundation Trust
  • Wrightington Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust
  • Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust
  • Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Wirral Community Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust
  • Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Found Trust
  • Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust
  • St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust
  • The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust
  • Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
  • North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust
  • University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust
  • Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust
  • Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust
  • University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust
  • South East Coast Ambulance Service
  • Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust
  • Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
  • Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust
  • University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust
  • South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust
  • Solent NHS Trust
  • Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust
  • Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
  • Devon Partnership NHS Trust
  • South Western Ambulance Service NHS Found Trust
  • Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust
  • Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • North Bristol NHS Trust
  • Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust
  • University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust
  • Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust
  • Somerset NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust
  • Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
  • Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust
  • The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust
  • University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
  • Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust
  • Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dudley Integrated Health and Care NHS Trust
  • Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust
  • Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust
  • Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust
  • The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Sheffield Children’s NHS Trust

Wales

  • Cardiff and Vale University Health Board
  • Powys Teaching Local Health Board
  • Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust Headquarters
  • Hywel Dda University Health Board
  • Swansea Bay University Health Board
  • Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board
  • Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board
  • Velindre NHS Trust

Scotland

  • NHS Borders
  • NHS Education For Scotland
  • NHS Fife
  • NHS National Services Scotland
  • NHS Shetland
  • NHS Western Isles
  • NHS Dumfries and Galloway
  • NHS Orkney
  • NHS Golden Jubilee
  • NHS 24
  • The State Hospitals Board for Scotland
  • NHS Grampian
  • NHS Tayside
  • NHS Ayrshire and Arran
  • The Highland Council
  • Healthcare Improvement Scotland
  • Public Health Scotland
  • NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
  • Scottish Ambulance Service
  • NHS Lothian
  • NHS Lanarkshire
  • NHS Highland
  • NHS Forth Valley

Northern Ireland

  • Practice and Education Council
  • Southern Health and Social Care Trust
  • Western Health and Social Care Trust
  • Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
  • Business Services Organisation
  • Regulation & Quality Improvement Authority
  • Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service
  • Public Health Agency
  • Northern Health and Social Care Trust
  • South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust
  • Northern Ireland Ambulance Service

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