Tell your mates, nurses deserve better pay... for sure.

Better than a strike

How do you tell an old and valued friend you think they might be wrong?

First step, figure out if it’s worth the aggro.

Wait for the right time. There’s probably never going to be a right time.

Keep calm, be prepared for the onslaught.

Keep an open mind, you might be wrong.

Choose your words. 

Remember the old sandwich technique; put the negative bit between a couple of positives. 

When all is said and done, if the relationship is worth anything, it’ll survive in the knowledge that everyone’s got everyone’s best interests at heart.

My ‘old friend’? They’ve been around since 1916…

… achieved a Royal Charter in 1928 and in 1935 had a row with the Trades Union Congress, who were pushing for a 48hr working week. My ‘old friend’ opposed this and were accused of being snobs.

In 1939 ‘the snobs’ became the Royal College of Nursing. 

In the same year the Ministry of Health guaranteed a salary of £40 to nursing students in training. The RCN said it was too much!

In 1977 the College, eventually, registered as a Trades Union.

When I first got involved in health, the imperious Catherine Hall was the boss followed by the wise Trevor Clay. The determined Christine Hancock, arm wrestled the organisation but lost when the RCN voted to include strike action in its constitution.

The disaster that was Beverly Malone followed. She thought she was the Duchess of Cavendish Square, with an expense account to match.

It was left to the magician, Peter Carter, to sort out the mess. He got the finances and the College back on its feet.

Since… the College has fallen from grace, fought amongst itself, squandered members’ money in pay-offs.

Exsanguinated onto the front pages, with self-inflicted wounds. Lately, self-harmed, witnessed in the chapters of the Carr Report…

… but, here’s the sandwich; it has the finest library of nursing in the world and a very nice coffee shop.

Now, a new leader, Pat Cullen, flush with ‘the success’ of industrial action in Northern Ireland, is having a go in England.

NI a success? Against a background of political chaos, nurses accepted proposals to restore pay-parity with England and implement a series of measures to improve safe staffing.

The reality? 

Parity with English pay is not enough pay and there are no more nurses in NI than there are in England, to guarantee safe staffing.

They’ve around 2,500 vacancies. Eight in 10 shifts lack enough staff.

The chances of a strike, here?

Let’s consult the Haruspex;

  • A hard nosed, right wing Cabinet
  • Economy in tatters
  • Rail-union’s strikes, drifting-on, no sign of a settlement
  • HMG will say, they honoured the decision of the pay review body; over 1m staff, including nurses, got a rise of at least £1,400 with lowest earners receiving up to 9.3%
  • All households have help with energy bills and childcare costs
  • For strikes to work, they have to cause aggro for the public. Support will wane if appointments and electives are cancelled and granny has to wait, longer…

The RCN will say;

  • After Covid, nurses deserve a decent rise
  • Over ten years, in real terms, nurse income has fallen by 20%
  • It means nurses are working one day a week for free
  • Insufficient trained staff is a patient safety issue
  • 40k nurses left last year, over 30k look set to leave this year…

They are both right.

There was a time, Ministers wouldn’t make a move, without consulting the RCN. Now the College is just another union, in a forest of banners and protests.

What to do? 

I’d like to see the RCN recover its standing and stature as a Royal College. Find a new narrative. Recover relevance as the bastion they once were.


  • Look for a five year, tapered pay deal – Tories know it’ll be Labour picking up most of the cost. 
  • Student debt forgiveness for all nurses. For HMT, it’s a bookkeeping trick, for nurses it’s a millstone. 
  • Free public transport to and from work and free parking. It can be a book juggle. The busses run anyway and a car park is a fixed overhead… most are empty at night. 
  • An independent panel to review and update Agenda for Change. It’s 18 years old, needs a refresh and this would be a good time to look to the future.
  • Specialist mortgage arrangements for nursesAdjust through the tax system.
  • Free creche facillities at workCapital cost for Trusts, small. Impact, high. 
  • Free broadband, needed for courses and career advancement.
  • Guarantee, no more down-bandingIt’s widespread, unscrupulous, should be banned.
  • Input into the new workforce plan, being written by NHSEGet influence back.
  • A serious look at pendulum arbitration as a way of settling future pay-n-rations disagreements. Lock-in, look serious. Pay Review Bodies have been around since the 60’s and have lost traction.

Tell your mates, nurses deserve better pay… for sure.


Tell your friends, nurses deserve better than a strike.

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