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Nurses have announced plans to walk out of cancer wards and intensive care for 48 hours in a major escalation of their industrial action.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also hopes to bolster its picket lines by increasing the amount it will pay members who lose pay as a result of striking.

The union, which is seeking pay rise of up to 19.7 per cent, said its next strike will run continuously for 48 hours from 6am on March 1.

Previous action took place only during the day shift, for 12 hours each time.

For the first time, the RCN will involve nursing staff working in emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other services that were previously exempted.

The Royal College of Nursing has announced a wave of fresh strike action in March that will be the first 48-hour walkout the union has held in its ongoing dispute on pay

The Royal College of Nursing has announced a wave of fresh strike action in March that will be the first 48-hour walkout the union has held in its ongoing dispute on pay

To be held from 6am on March 1 to 6am on March 3 the action will also be the first time the union's industrial action will be held across A&E, intensive care, and cancer wards which, were made exempt during previous strikes

 To be held from 6am on March 1 to 6am on March 3 the action will also be the first time the union’s industrial action will be held across A&E, intensive care, and cancer wards which, were made exempt during previous strikes

Nurses will strike at 120 NHS employers in England from March 1 – up from 73 earlier this month and 44 in December. 

Health leaders described the development as the ‘most worrying escalation of strikes yet’ and Health Secretary Steve Barclay warned it will ‘risk patient safety’.

A strike last week saw the RCN agree 5,000 exemptions at local level through committees of NHS hospitals and RCN staff, but this process will be stopped for the March dates.

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The RCN said it was continuing discussions with the NHS at national level as part of its commitment to ‘life and limb’ care.

It will reduce services to an ‘absolute minimum’ and ask hospitals to rely on members of other unions and other clinical professions instead.

The nursing union announced that the initial strike benefit rate will be increased from £50 to £80 per day, with the rate increasing to £120 from the fourth day of action.

Pat Cullen, general secretary of the RCN, has accused the government of refusing to engage in negotiations.

She said: ‘It is with a heavy heart that I have today asked even more nursing staff to join this dispute.

‘These strikes will not just run for longer and involve more people but will leave no area of the NHS unaffected. Patients and nurses alike did not want this to happen.

‘By refusing to negotiate with nurses, the Prime Minister is pushing even more people into the strike. He must listen to NHS leaders and not let this go ahead.

‘I will do whatever I can to ensure patient safety is protected.

‘At first, we asked thousands to keep working during the strikes but it is clear that is only prolonging the dispute.

‘This action must not be in vain – the Prime Minister owes them an answer.’

Mr Barclay said: ‘Failure to provide cover during strike action for key services like cancer care is a significant escalation from the Royal College of Nursing that will risk patient safety.

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‘We are working closely with NHS England on contingency plans, but this action will inevitably cause further disruption for patients.

‘I’ve had a series of discussions with unions, including the RCN, about what is fair and affordable for the coming year, as well as wider concerns around conditions and workload.’

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive at NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said: ‘This is the most worrying escalation of strikes yet.

Almost 140,000 ops and appointments have been cancelled because of NHS strikes this winter. That toll includes the biggest ever strike to rock the ailing health service on February 6, involving tens of thousands of nurses and paramedics

Almost 140,000 ops and appointments have been cancelled because of NHS strikes this winter. That toll includes the biggest ever strike to rock the ailing health service on February 6, involving tens of thousands of nurses and paramedics

‘With more than 140,000 appointments already postponed as a result of the walkouts, this is a step no one wants to take.

 ‘A continuous 48-hour strike with no exceptions in A&E, intensive care units or cancer care services will be a huge blow – especially as even more trusts will be affected this time.

‘With further strikes by ambulance workers planned in the coming days and weeks, and junior doctors’ walkouts also likely, trust leaders are now in a near-impossible position.

‘They’re deeply concerned the escalation could hamper their efforts to tackle care backlogs and compromise continuity of care for some.

‘Without a resolution, this ongoing dispute could lead to serious, long-term damage to the NHS.

‘We understand that frontline staff feel they’ve had no choice but to take this action due to challenges including the high cost of living, workforce shortages and below-inflation pay rises.

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‘Trust leaders will be working flat out to ensure patient safety and provision of vital services but they can only do so much by themselves.

‘The Government needs to talk to the unions urgently about pay for this financial year.’

Wes Streeting, Labour’s health spokesman, said: ‘People will be flabbergasted that, three months into this dispute, Rishi Sunak still refuses to get around the table with health unions to bring an end to strikes in the NHS.

‘There hasn’t been a single minute of negotiation but there have been tens of thousands of cancelled operations and appointments.’

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