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Anger, determination, and courage

Pat Cullen 10 Feb 2023 Chief Executive and General Secretary

Pat Cullen reflects on two more days on RCN picket lines this week.

I get no greater sense of satisfaction in this job than meeting with members and hearing about your concerns and ambitions for our profession. This week, I talked to hundreds of you – from Gloucester in the west to Ipswich in the east and more than a dozen other towns and cities in between.  

I could not do justice to everything I heard, but will long remember the three ladies who told me they had very recently lost a close colleague and they were stood on that picket line in her memory and honour. The gentleman who was derogated to keep cancer care running but spoke so passionately about the strike. Another lady reduced to tears when telling how she, like me, joined the RCN because we would never strike, but realised this is now our only hope. Newly qualified nurses showing our profession is in safe hands and nursing support colleagues and registered staff side by side outside the hospital, just like inside.  

Industrial action will always be a last resort for our college, but we have seen in recent weeks that it will work. In Wales, a revised offer has been received resulting in a suspension of strike action there. Members in Wales will be able to vote on this new offer in a consultation which started at midday today. Is it everything you deserve? Absolutely not. But I am determined you have a say on any pay offers. 

In Scotland, negotiations on pay between the joint trade unions, NHS employers and the Scottish government continue, with another meeting taking place this week. We’ll update members on the outcome of negotiations as soon as we can. Last week the RCN Scotland Board met with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care to set out just how challenging working in Scotland’s health and care services is and to press the Scottish government for action on Scotland’s nursing workforce crisis.

Last weekend, I wrote to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, reminding him that strike action in England could be avoided if he followed the example of the Scottish and Welsh governments in agreeing to negotiations. But he hasn’t even had the decency to acknowledge my letter and has instead chosen to leave nursing staff in England out in the cold.

And it’s not just the current nursing workforce which is impacted. Figures out just yesterday show a 19% drop in the number of people applying to nursing degree courses. Failure to value our profession - deal with fair pay and safe staffing - is not only impacting on patient care today but damaging our ability to educate and recruit the workforce of tomorrow.
I know how hard it is for you to keep taking strike action. You don’t want to be away from your patients and the work you care so passionately about. Standing on the picket lines in the bitter cold, keeping up morale is hard work, and the ongoing cost of living crisis means that the loss of income is keenly felt. Please remember we are here to support you, including through strike benefit payments of £50 per day of action. Thousands of you have already claimed and received the money.
I wanted to remind you that booking is now open for RCN Congress 2023. Congress is a brilliant opportunity to continue the important conversations I know many of you have been having on the picket lines in recent weeks. Come to Congress with fire in your belly and help shape the future of nursing and the direction of the RCN.

I remain immensely proud to know that you are determined to stand up for your profession and are willing to continue the fight. Every single person who joins a picket line, shares our content online or speaks to colleagues and friends about fair pay and safe staffing is doing our profession and patients proud. As ever, I am by your side every step of the way.



Pat Cullen

Pat Cullen

General Secretary and Chief Executive

Pat has worked at the RCN since 2016. Before being appointed General Secretary and Chief Executive, Pat was Director of RCN Northern Ireland from May 2019 to April 2021.

Page last updated - 11/07/2023