A planned 48-hour strike by nurses in England over the Bank Holiday weekend will now end a day earlier, after a High Court passed a ruling calling partially unlawful.
The Royal College of Nursing called the walkout in protest over pay issues, which was scheduled to begin on Sunday and end on Monday.
RCN’s chief, Pat Cullen, called the ruling “the darkest day” of the dispute and urged the government to negotiate.
Downing Street said it was unfortunate that the government had to take the matter to court, having tried to avoid doing so. The judge further stated that the six-month decree of the RCN to go strike would have expired by Tuesday.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay had to resort to legal action only after NHS Employers argued that the last day of the strike was not covered by the decree.
The judge ordered the RCN to pay the hearing’s costs, criticising the union’s “high degree of unreasonableness” and its failure to concede leading to the matter being presented in court.
Following the hearing, general secretary of the RCN Ms Cullen accused the government of losing the public’s and nurses’ trust despite having succeeded legally and further criticised the Health Secretary Mr Barclay and the government for their actions which will hurt the fabric of the NHS.
Ms Cullen called for negotiation rather than legal action, warning that strike action could continue for the next six months if the government doesn’t engage in dialogue as the nursing fraternity will not go back on their demands.
On the other hand, Mr. Barclay affirmed his support for lawful industrial action, but argued that the government could not allow plainly illegal strikes to go ahead. He said that both his team and the NHS had tried in vain to resolve the issuer without having to take the matter to the court.
Earlier in the month, the government did propose a 5% pay raise for 2023-24 with an extra £1,655 as a top up to the salary of last year, subject to the employee grade, that was flatly refused by the RCN committee and resulted in the strike being actioned.
In a vote held earlier this month, the union declared that their members had turned down the offer by a margin of 54% to 46%.
The upcoming strike action will involve NHS nurses working in critical areas such as intensive care, cancer wards and emergency departments among other areas.
This year, nurses have already participated in two strikes on 6-7 February and 18-19 January, during which exemptions were made to maintain nursing cover in crucial areas.
The government has warned that strike action without any type of exclusions across the UK would endanger the welfare of patients.
The RCN has further stated that after the current mandate expires, there will be balloting of its members for additional strikes.
While the pay recommendations exclude senior managers and doctors, it is on offer for all other staff of the NHS. In the meantime, some of the other unions in the UK are in consultation with their members for feedback on the offer.
Following the High Court ruling, it was announced that the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy’s members were in favour of the offer with a 65% to 35% majority.
Both the midwives union and Unison, have expressed their support for the deal. However, the members of the Royal College of Podiatry and radiographers union have not shown support.
The ministers are to meet with all health unions on Tuesday to learn whether the Agenda for Change pay deal has majority support among staff.
One of the major unions involved, the GMB, is expected to declare on Friday that its members have approved the government’s pay proposal.
There is an increased possibility that when the GMB joins the other health unions to vote on the pay offer, it is highly likely that a majority will support it.