• RCN poll saw 19 per cent turnout with majority in favour of protests and strike action
  • Union threatens to ballot for industrial action if pay cap is not lifted by ministers
  • Action follows mounting criticism of pay restraint policy which started seven years ago

The NHS is facing a “summer of protest” by nurses over seven years of pay restraint after a poll by the Royal College of Nursing showed overwhelming support for industrial action including strikes.

The union unveiled the results of its indicative poll of more than 50,000 nurses at the annual congress in Liverpool yesterday.

The poll results showed nine in 10 nurses supported industrial action short of strike and 78 per cent said they were prepared to go on strike.

Turnout for the poll was just over 19 per cent with 52,434 nurses out of the total 270,000 RCN members working in the NHS.

Union leaders said that unless the government’s one per cent pay cap was lifted this year the RCN would ballot its members to take industrial action.

The RCN said the current policy of pay restraint had left nurses with a real terms pay cut of 14 per cent.

NHS England warned in its Five Year Forward View that pay restraint could not be continued indefinitely and earlier this year the independent NHS Pay Review Bodies warned the government that the policy needed to be revised.

The PRB said: “Our judgement is that we are approaching the point when the current pay policy will require some modification, and greater flexibility, within the NHS.”

So far the government has shown no intention of changing the pay restraint policy.

Michael Brown, chair of the RCN council, said: “Our members have given us the very clear message that they can’t and won’t take any more. This is an unprecedented show of anger and frustration over the government’s pay policy. Politicians must now listen and tell us what they will do about nursing pay. It’s a message to all parties that the crisis in nursing recruitment must be put centre stage in this election.

“The RCN has never gone on strike before, so balloting our members would be a very significant step. We’ve heard from members that they want to send a much tougher message to government which is why we will be leading them in a summer of protest activity.”