Ministers braced for fresh industrial unrest as nurses gather in Brighton

Ministers are facing the possibility of fresh industrial unrest, as teachers and senior doctors prepare to ballot for strike action and hundreds of nurses gather for the Royal College of Nursing annual congress.

It comes as RCN general secretary Pat Cullen called on Health Secretary Steve Barclay to restart pay negotiations with a proposed rise in double digits.

Members of RCN, one of the two unions to turn down the recent Government pay offer to NHS staff, will gather in Brighton as the long-running dispute continues.

Union members will begin a new ballot for strike action on May 23 after the existing six-month mandate ran out at the start of the month.

But a Department of Health spokesperson said that the Government’s pay offer was “fair” and said that there were “no plans to reopen negotiations on this deal”.

Industrial strike
General secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Pat Cullen (Lucy North/PA)

Senior doctors and teachers’ unions were also being urged to think carefully before taking strike action, as they prepared to ballot.

Members of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and National Education Union (NEU) rejected the Government’s recent pay offer, with ballots for members to vote on industrial action opening on Monday.

The NEU said it will be re-balloting teacher members working in England’s state-funded schools, with the current mandate for industrial action ending on July 13.

The NAHT ballot will close on July 31, with education unions agreeing to co-ordinate strike action in the autumn term.

NEU joint secretaries Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney blamed a “lack of engagement” from the Government for the decision, but said it was “never too late for the Education Secretary to come to the negotiating table and make an improved offer”.

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said that the union had been “left with no other choice but to seek this mandate for industrial action”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said the move was “bitterly disappointing”.

Senior doctors in England also start voting on Monday on whether to strike in the continuing dispute over pay.

Dr Vishal Sharma, who chairs the BMA consultants committee, said talks had been held with the Government to try to resolve the long-running row, but it remains deadlocked.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He said the union “simply could not accept a deal that continued this downward trend and have been left with no option but to proceed today with the ballot for industrial action”.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We hugely value the work of NHS consultants and they received a 4.5% pay uplift last financial year increasing average earnings to around £128,000.

“They will also benefit from generous changes to pension taxation announced at budget and are eligible to apply for additional financial awards worth up to £40,000 a year as part of the NHS consultant contract.

“We urge the BMA to carefully consider the likely impact of any action on patients.”