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Nurses to walk out of emergency departments for 48 hours

Published on: 16 Feb 2023

Nurses will walk out of emergency departments, intensive care units and cancer care services for the first time in the next wave of strike action.

The Royal College of Nursing has announced its members will strike for 48 hours, from 6am on 1 March until 6am on 3 March and that a range of derogations will be removed, including emergency care cover. 

More than 120 NHS organisations — covering all types of providers, integrated care systems and national organisations (see map below) — will be affected by the RCN’s walkout next month as it represents the most significant escalation of strike action yet by nurses. Liverpool University Hospitals Foundation Trust is the only trust with a mandate to strike that is not walking out next month.

Previously, quite extensive exemptions (known as “derogations”) have been agreed, but the RCN has this time indicated they will be much more limited. Other strikes have also been limited to particular hours of the day, rather than 48 hours straight.

HSJ asked the RCN what services will remain subject to national derogations, but a spokesman said discussions are continuing at a national level as part of a commitment to “life and limb care”.

He added services will be reduced to an “absolute minimum” and hospitals will be asked to rely on members of other unions and clinical professions instead.

Unions have repeated calls for ministers to open negotiations on the 2022-23 Agenda for Change pay deal, as the ongoing dispute revolves around it being below inflation.

However, health and social care secretary Steve Barclay has insisted unions should engage in “constructive” talks for the 2023-24 pay round.

Pat Cullen, the RCN’s general secretary and chief executive, said the strikes “will leave no area of the NHS unaffected”.

She added: “By refusing to negotiate with nurses, the prime minister [Rishi Sunak] is pushing even more people into the strike. He must listen to NHS leaders and not let this go ahead.

“I will do whatever I can to ensure patient safety is protected. At first, we asked thousands to keep working during the strikes but it is clear that is only prolonging the dispute. This action must not be in vain – the prime minister owes them an answer.”

NHS Providers chief executive Sir Julian Hartley said trust leaders are now in a “near-impossible situation”.

He added: “Without a resolution, this ongoing dispute could lead to serious, long-term damage to the NHS. We understand that frontline staff feel they’ve had no choice but to take this action due to challenges including the high cost of living, workforce shortages and below-inflation pay rises.

“The government needs to talk to the unions urgently about pay for this financial year.”