RCN and train drivers’ union dispute ministers’ claims about their strikes

RCN and train drivers’ union dispute ministers’ claims about their strikes –

The Royal College of Nursing has clashed with the government over whether sufficient exemptions have been made to protect patient safety during the nurses’ strike in England that is due to start on Sunday night.

The clash came as a row erupted between the leader of the train drivers’ union and the transport secretary, who had criticised a planned strike on the eve of the Eurovision song contest final for its impact on Ukraine.

The general secretary of the RCN, Pat Cullen, said nurses had worked “tirelessly” to make sure their strike would be as safe as possible for patients and that there were national exemptions in place for “those really acute urgent services”.

She took issue with the transport secretary, Mark Harper, who claimed that there were no nationally agreed derogations to stop the strike endangering patients.

Cullen told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “There are national exemptions in place for a range of services, for emergency departments, for intensive care units, for neonatal units, paediatric intensive care units, those really acute urgent services.

“We have put national exemptions in place; we’ve worked tirelessly with NHS England.”

A series of derogations have been now been agreed to protect care in some areas, after Great Ormond Street hospital was among organisations to voice “serious concerns” about patient safety during the stoppage.

However, Harper said it “clearly does put patients at risk” that there were no nationally agreed exemptions across the board.

Ruth May, the chief nursing officer for England.
Ruth May, the chief nursing officer for England.

The RCN initially resisted derogations, but its website now says that although there will be “no wide-ranging derogations”, there are safety-critical mitigations allowing staff “to preserve life-and-limb” care in emergency departments and intensive care units.

The RCN will hold industrial action from 8pm on Sunday until 11.59pm on Monday after members voted in a ballot to reject the latest government offer. The pay deal included a 5% pay rise for this year and a cash payment for last year.

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, may now move to impose the pay deal as the bulk of 12 unions involved in negotiations are ready to accept the offer, with the RCN and Unite both holding out.

Harper urged the RCN to accept the pay offer for its members, even though it was rejected by the union’s nurses when put to a ballot.

“I would urge them to think again and to do what the other trade unions in the health service have done, which is to accept what I think is a fair and reasonable pay offer, reflecting the value that we do place on hardworking NHS staff,” he told the same programme.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said he did “not want to see strikes go ahead”, suggesting he would seek further negotiation with the RCN. “The way to avoid strikes is to get in the room with the nurses and resolve these issues,” he said.

The strike was due to last two days, but a high court judge ruled on Thursday it would be unlawful for the RCN strike to continue into Tuesday as originally planned because its mandate for industrial action will have expired.

Meanwhile, the disputes that led to train strikes had appeared close to a resolution in recent weeks but RMT members are now due to strike again on 13 May after the union rejected the latest pay deal from operators.

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