Nurses across the UK have voted to strike in the first ever national action over a pay dispute.
The strike ballot among more than 300,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) was the biggest ever in the union’s 106-year history.
Its general secretary Pat Cullen said: “Our strike action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses – we have their support in doing this.”
Although counting is still under way, it is understood that RCN officials believe enough members have voted for winter industrial action which is set to take place within a few weeks, possibly before Christmas.
The exact nature of the strike action is yet to be determined, but it will likely see patients face disruption to operations and appointments while already facing record NHS waiting lists.
A union source told the Observer newspaper: “This will see the majority of services taken out, and picket lines across the country.”
It also comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt already face the huge challenge of tackling a £50 billion hole in public finances.
In a statement, Mrs Cullen said: “Patients are at great risk when there aren’t enough nurses.
“Huge numbers of staff – both experienced and newer recruits – are deciding they cannot see a future in a nursing profession that is not valued nor treated fairly.”
She added: “As we begin action, politicians in every part of the UK will be challenged to back their nursing staff and understand the strength of public support.”
The RCN said there are record nursing vacancies and in the last year 25,000 nursing staff around the UK left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register.
It said recent analysis showed an experienced nurse’s salary has fallen by 20% in real terms since 2010, saying the goodwill and expertise of nursing staff is being “exploited” by governments across the UK.
The RCN is campaigning for a pay rise of 5% above inflation.