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Nursing strike cut short following court order

Published on: 27 Apr 2023

Next week’s nurses strike will now end on bank holiday Monday – one day earlier than planned – following a High Court decision that it could not run into Tuesday. 

The health and social care secretary launched the legal challenge against the Royal College of Nursing earlier this week, arguing its six-month mandate for industrial action came to an end on Monday. This followed NHS Employers querying the proposed strike dates last week. 

The RCN had planned to strike “without derogations” for 48 hours from 8pm on Sunday 30 April to 8pm on Tuesday 2 May. It announced the strike action earlier this month after its members voted to reject the government’s pay deal

“Welcoming” today’s court decision, health secretary Steve Barclay said: “I firmly support the right to take industrial action within the law – but the government could not stand by and let plainly unlawful strike action go ahead. Both the NHS and my team tried to resolve this without resorting to legal action, but unfortunately, following a request from NHS Employers, we took this step with regret to protect nurses by ensuring they are not asked to take part in an unlawful strike…

“The government wants to continue working constructively with the [RCN], as was the case when we agreed the pay offer that was endorsed by their leadership. We now call on them to do the right thing by patients and agree derogations for their strike action.”

RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: “Nursing staff will be angered but not crushed by today’s interim order. It may even make them more determined to vote in next month’s reballot for a further six months of action…

“Our strike will now finish at midnight on the Monday as we have ensured safe and legal action at all times.

“The government has won their legal battle today. But what this has led to is they have lost nursing and they’ve lost the public. They’ve taken the most trusted profession through the courts, by the least trusted people.”

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: “The RCN could and should have resolved this significant issue of the legality of its strike sooner.

“More than a week ago now NHS Employers approached the RCN to query whether its mandate for strike action expired at midnight on 1 May 2023 and not the 2 May as they had appeared to suggest.  

“The RCN vigorously rejected our assertion and we were left with no choice but to ask the secretary of state to seek the view of the courts. Clarity has now been achieved, not least for RCN members, and the judge has confirmed the position we set out last week: any strike action occurring on 2nd May would be illegal.”

Members of other trade unions are still voting on the proposed deal for Agenda for Change pay, while Unison and Royal College of Midwives members have voted in favour of the new offer. 

The RCN announced in November that its members at half of NHS organisations had voted in favour of strike action over dissatisfaction with the government’s original Agenda for Change pay offer. 

Nurses then went on strike in December as well as this January and February. Strikes had also been planned for March but these were paused as the union entered negotiations with the government. 

Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph has reported the government is expected to begin negotiations with the British Medical Association, with its junior doctors’ committee now willing to move away from its previous demand for a 35 per cent pay increase. 

Junior doctors voted in favour of strike action in February, which led to a three-day strike in March and a four-day strike after the Easter bank holiday weekend in April