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Nurses plan to escalate action

22 February 2023

A clear message from RCN members on strike 19 January at The Christie, Manchester, one of Britain’s leading cancer specialist hospitals. Photo Workers.

From 1 to 3 March, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members at every employer in England with a strike mandate were called on to take action including on night shifts.

The government had ignored every previous round of strike action so far which means they needed to escalate. The RCN states: “The nursing profession, our patients and the NHS are in danger – we have to fight back together.”

Intensive talks

On the evening of Tuesday 21 February, the government and the RCN announced they were going into “a process of intensive talks” starting the following day. The aim is to reach a settlement that recognizes both the role that nurses play in the NHS and “the economic pressures facing the UK”.

In the light of those talks, the RCN has paused the planned strike action. Whether this results in the government talking about this year’s pay is unclear. Up to now they have completely ruled that out.


The crucial data linking nurses pay to retention and the future of the NHS is well illustrated in the new RCN report Valuing Nursing in the UK. It showed an overall increase of 9 per cent leaving the nursing register between 2020-21 and the previous year, and then a further increase of 3 per cent in 2022.

‘Applications for nursing courses fell by 19 per cent…’

The trend which emerged post pandemic of an increase in those wanting to join the profession, has been reversed. February figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) showed that applications for nursing courses in England fell by 19 per cent last year.

Everybody except the government is listening and speaking out. The NHS employers’ organisation has called on the government to negotiate. On 6 February the chief nurses of ten of England’s leading teaching hospitals called for a swift resolution.


In reaching the point of calling national action for the first time in its history, the RCN is taking responsibility for the NHS and asking us all to “fight back together”, putting the onus on the whole working class to take responsibility too.

The time for passive clapping is well over. In our history we have found ingenious ways to fight, and we need to draw on that history now.

This article is updated from that appearing in the March/April editions of Workers, which went to press shortly before the announcement on 21 February.