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The Government has said there are contingency plans in place if a mass strike by nurses goes ahead before Christmas

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is expected to announce a mass walk out after its members voted in favour of strikes over pay earlier this week in an historic ballot. 

The union is demanding nurses receive a cost-of-living pay rise of 5 per cent above inflation which currently sits at 12.3 per cent. 

It is set to be the first national strike in the 106-year-old history of the RCN.

Cabinet Officer Minister Oliver Dowden (pictured) said in the event of industrial action, the NHS would prioritise the most essential services

Cabinet Officer Minister Oliver Dowden (pictured) said in the event of industrial action, the NHS would prioritise the most essential services 

Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden has said in the event of industrial action, the NHS would prioritise the most essential services. 

However, he acknowledges it would have an impact on the service as a whole.     

‘We have well-oiled contingencies in place and the Department of Health is across how we would deal with a scenario like this should it arise,’ he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme. 

‘We will make sure we prioritise the most essential services – emergency services and so on. But of course there would be an impact as a result of a strike like that.

‘I would continue to urge nurses and others to resist going out on strike even if they have voted to do so. We have already agreed quite considerable support for nurses. 

‘Of course, if you are in the situation where you have a large number of nurses going out on strike, of course that is going to have an impact for example on some elective surgery and other activities.’ 

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A spokesperson for the RCN said: ‘Cutting nurses’ wages by 20 per cent since 2010 is the opposite of providing ‘considerable support’ for nurses and the Cabinet Office Minister shouldn’t insult our members by pretending it is. 

Graham Revie, chair of the RCN Trade Union Committee (centre), joins nurses at Downing Street, London to hand in the fair pay for nursing petition on November 4

Graham Revie, chair of the RCN Trade Union Committee (centre), joins nurses at Downing Street, London to hand in the fair pay for nursing petition on November 4

‘The minister appears in denial about both the anger of nursing staff and the public support we have.’ 

The RCN is demanding nurses get a salary uplift of five per cent above inflation. This would grant the average nurse, who earns roughly £35,600 each year, an extra £6,150. 

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen has said the Government’s current offer — around £1,400 per nurse, in reality — ‘makes a difference to a nurse’s wage of 72p an hour’.

This, the union argues, is driving nurses to leave the NHS for better paid jobs in retail and hospitality, further exacerbating staff shortages. 

The RCN will be expected to maintain a minimum staffing level to ensure patients have access to emergency care, urgent diagnostic procedures and they are not at risk of death or disability.

Like other workers, NHS staff cannot legally be sacked if they participate in official and lawful industrial action.

Health workers in other unions, including ambulance staff, hospital porters and cleaners are also voting on industrial action over pay with Unison and the GMB set to announce ballot results later this month. 

NHS data shows efforts to get more nurses into the health service are only barely keeping pace with the number of experienced nurses quitting

NHS data shows efforts to get more nurses into the health service are only barely keeping pace with the number of experienced nurses quitting

Unison is asking 350,000 NHS staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including porters, nurses, paramedics and cleaners, to vote in favour of walking out.

A ballot of its 50,000 members in Scotland, which was already under way, has been suspended after a new pay offer.

Meanwhile, GMB is demanding NHS staff of all levels including cleaners and porters, get a 15 per cent pay rise, or £2 more per hour, whatever is higher. 

Physiotherapists and midwives are also set to start a ballot process on strike action. 

The British Medical Association, a union representing 160,000 GPs, consultants, and junior doctors, has also warned industrial action by the profession is ‘inevitable’.

It is set to poll junior doctors — who are demanding the equivalent of a 26 per cent pay rise — in January. 

It comes as NHS hospitals in England were ordered to plan a military-style operation to prepare for protentional devastating strikes this winter.

Officials have been told ensure each part of the service is ready if historic, NHS-wide industrial action goes ahead, an operation called Exercise Arctic Willow.

Widespread industrial action could see thousands of operations and appointments cancelled. 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson added: ‘We value the hard work of NHS staff including nurses, and are working hard to support them – including by giving over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year as recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body, on top of 3 per cent last year when pay was frozen in the wider public sector. 

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‘Industrial action is a matter for unions, and we urge them to carefully consider the potential impacts on patients.’ 

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