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Trust boss urges Sunak to avert strike action

Published on: 12 Dec 2022

A trust leader has written an open letter to prime minister Rishi Sunak asking him to urgently avert strike action planned by the Royal College of Nursing.

Professor Steven Hams, the chief nursing officer of North Bristol Trust, published his letter on social media ahead of the RCN walkouts planned for 15 and 20 December.

This is thought to be one of the first times an NHS leader has publicly called on the government to hold talks with a union to avert industrial action.

It comes after the RCN announced its members would take industrial action on 15 and 20 December amid concerns over pay and safety.

North Bristol Trust is among nearly 50 trusts where RCN members are planning to strike on the two days, and its region, the South West, is the most affected, with half trusts affected.

Professor Hams, who is an RCN member himself, wrote that he accepted the nation faced several challenges but felt the “time for applause and empty platitudes had gone”.

He also warned the government’s latest pay award, which was met with widespread dismay this summer, was “failing to attract, retain and innovate” the NHS workforce.

This was “at a time when there is record demand for NHS services and a brutal winter ahead of us,” he said.

Professor Hams said: “As an optimist, I see opportunity in every difficulty. I am directly urging you, as prime minister, to facilitate urgent meaningful negotiations between the RCN and [health and social care secretary Steve Barclay].

“We now have a small window of opportunity to avert industrial action this week and minimise disruption and potential harm caused to patients.

“Our collective endeavours should be to reduce the rhetoric and find an agreeable common ground and continue to develop an approach to effect dialogue.

“’Doors being open’ is not the same as actively engaging in constructive dialogue.

“As prime minister, your leadership over the coming days will be tested. The NHS is precious to us all, no more so than to thousands of people who make up the dedicated NHS workforce.

“Each of us are here to serve the nation, public service is sacrosanct to us all, I hope you find the time to facilitate urgent and meaningful discussions with the RCN.”

The tweet has garnered more than 280 “retweets” and over 1,000 “likes” at the time of publication. Professor Hams said the RCN were not involved in the construction of the letter.

The union is calling for a pay rise that is 5 percentage points above inflation, measured by the retail price index. This would equate to 19.2 per cent on current estimates.

The GMB Union, Unison and Unite have also announced their ambulance staff members will walk out over pay on 21 December, before GMB Union members strike for an additional day seven days later.

Pat Cullen, the RCN’s chief executive and general secretary, has said industrial action can be averted if ministers open formal pay negotiations.

However, health and social care secretary Steve Barclay has previously maintained that the union’s demands are “unaffordable”.