The Royal College of Nursing’s council has held back from rejecting the government’s latest pensions offer after a poor ballot turnout among members.

Two thirds of those that did vote in the ballot, held this month, voted to reject the deal.  

However, despite urging from the college to take part in the ballot, turnout was only 16 per cent.

As a result, the RCN’s council has for the time being chosen not to reject or accept the pension proposals on the back of the ballot result and will instead seek urgent discussions with other health unions, which are currently in the middle of similar membership consultations.  

Doctors are to be balloted on industrial action short of a strike, the British Medical Association announced on Saturday. Over 80 per cent of the 46,000 members who responded to our pension survey in January said the government’s offer should be rejected.

RCN ballot papers were sent in the first week of February with the closing date Monday 27 February.

Senior college figures, including chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter and senior employment relations adviser Gerry O’Dwyer, both made videos urging members to take part.

However, 65,759 votes were cast, a turnout of 16.17 per cent from the college’s 400,000 membership.

Of those who voted, 41,009 (62.36 per cent) voted to reject the government’s proposals, whilst 24,533 members (37.30 per cent), voted to accept the proposals.

HSJ understands the RCN felt it would not have a mandate to reject or accept the government’s proposals unless turnout was 20 per cent or above.

The RCN governing council met today to discuss the “next steps” following the vote. 

Council chair Kath McCourt said: “While the members who voted expressed a clear view, showing their anger at the government proposals, we are disappointed that more of our members did not take the opportunity to vote. 

“We will now, as a matter of urgency, meet with other unions who are at varying stages in their own member consultations.”

Mr Carter added: “Throughout this process, our members’ number one concern about pensions has been the prospect of working in a physically demanding job until the age of 68; which is due to take effect in 2046.

“We vehemently believe the demands of nursing mean that the same should apply to our profession and we are committed to stepping  up campaigning on this issue to make the government change its mind.”

Responding to the ballot result, health secretary Andrew Lansley said:  “It is disappointing that some RCN members have voted against the proposals.  

“Most nurses over 45 will not be affected by any changes.  Everything people have already earned will be protected and most low and middle earners working a full career will receive pension benefits at least as good, if not better, than they get now.”

He added: “But change is necessary – people are living longer, healthier lives.  Today, a nurse can expect to spend nearly 33 years in retirement – around 9 years more than 30 years ago.”