Health Secretary Steve Barclay can still stop imminent strikes if he chooses to value nursing staff and pay them fairly.

As new research shows the UK is the “sick man of Europe” when it comes to nursing pay, RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen has written to Health Secretary Steve Barclay demanding the UK government opens formal NHS pay negotiations to avert strikes.

Data published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), shows the UK is languishing far behind comparable European countries.

In the letter to the Health Secretary, Pat wrote: “I must ask how you will respond to the categorical evidence that the United Kingdom values nurses less than others. It is deeply regrettable that we, as the UK, find ourselves as the sick man of Europe once again.”

The OECD’s report shows the pay of nursing staff working in hospitals in the UK in relation to national average salaries. It reveals that the UK ranks lowly against countries that are comparable in terms of population and size of the economy – like Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.

The report also demonstrates that relative to the cost of living across different countries, UK nurses receive lower wages in terms of what their wages can buy or their Purchasing Power Parity (PPP).

This clearly shows that UK nurses fare worse than those in most other European countries not only in comparison to national average earnings, but in relation to their incomes failing to keep up with the cost of living.

While in many other countries across Europe nursing earnings have kept up with inflation over the last decade, the UK has fallen far behind. The OECD report confirms that in many countries across Europe nurses’ pay has increased in real terms since 2010, but fallen in the UK.

“With the facts laid out bare by the OECD, you may now feel clearer on why my members across the four countries have voted so decisively for strike action and why the remedial action on the part of governments must be as significant as it is urgent,” Pat wrote.

“As I have made clear on multiple occasions, you have the option to avert strike action by opening formal negotiations about the current pay award.

Last week, the RCN confirmed the locations of December strikes across the UK – with up to 100,000 nursing staff taking part in strikes in England, Northern Ireland and Wales on Thursday 15 and Tuesday 20 December. These strikes could be the beginning of a longer period of action if formal pay negotiations either don’t happen, or don’t result in a satisfactory outcome.

Plans for strike action in Scotland have been paused after the Scottish government returned to the negotiating table to avert strikes.

We’re campaigning for a pay rise of 5% above RPI inflation to overcome real-terms pay cuts which have left experienced nurses 20% worse off since 2010. Only by paying nursing staff fairly will we recruit and retain people in our profession.