Published on:

20th February 2023

Letter to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care: Urgent resolution needed to avoid further strikes

This letter from the UHA Chief Nursing Officers Group to Steve Barclay outlines the overall impact of the recent industrial action and the urgent need for a resolution to avoid future strikes.


Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to you on behalf of the University Hospital Association (UHA) Chief Nursing Officers Group, an organisation made up of 46 member Trusts representing a broad range of voices within healthcare. We wish to outline our view on the overall impact of the recent industrial action and to ask that some form of resolution is found to avoid future strikes. This would prevent the risk of further harm to patients, disruption to the operational running of our hospitals, moral injury to our staff and the denigration of the future of nursing as a profession.

We are cognisant that the nature of any strike is meant to be disruptive and whilst the strikes have been well managed by our nursing leaders, the extent of the impact seems not to have been fully understood. Where strikes have occurred, Trusts have had to cancel elective surgery, diagnostic activity and outpatient activity. We know that any increase to patient waiting lists leads to delayed treatment and patient harm. There is also the likelihood of psychological harm for those patients whose appointments or operations were cancelled.

A significant amount of planning has been needed in the weeks leading up to the industrial action which took senior nurse leadership time away from supporting the operational running of our hospitals.

There are currently circa 47, 000 RN vacancies in England (RCN); over 1m healthcare workers worldwide (WHO) and nearly 35,000 nurses left active service last year. Therefore, it is imperative that we attract and retain sufficient nurses to meet future demand. Predictions such as those from the Health Foundation (Jan 2022) estimate the NHS will need almost 19,000 more nurses to tackle to COVID backlog alone. The International Council of Nurses (2022) predicts an increased demand for RNs over the next decade which equates to just under 50% of current numbers worldwide (International Council of Nurses 2022). In 2023 UCAS has seen student nurse applications drop by 27% from the previous year. Attracting and retaining nurses is not only through their pay and conditions but also through the value that we place on them as a society, their well-being, and their professional development.

As chief nurses we are proud of nursing; nursing is a safety critical profession and nurses touch people’s lives at their most vulnerable moments. We have seen our nurses care throughout the pandemic, care through one of the most challenging winters and are only too aware of the toll that this has had on their resilience. We know too that what nurses do is valued by the public and we want to keep it as the fulfilling profession it is.

If the industrial action continues, then the issues outlined above will also continue to erode nursing and services provided by the NHS. We are also extremely concerned, as Executive Directors responsible for patient safety, that the plans to escalate the next round of strikes will have an even greater impact than they have already had on patients.
If you would like to meet with a small group of us to hear first-hand of our experience and that of our staff, we should be more than happy to do that.

Yours sincerely

  • Gail Byrne, Chief Nursing Officer, University Hospitals Southampton Foundation Trust
  • Sam Foster, Chief Nursing Officer, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Liz Rix, Chief Nurse, Portsmouth University Hospitals
  • Professor Nancy Fontaine | Chief Nurse & DIPC, Norfolk & Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust
  • Nathan Askew, Chief Nursing Officer and AHP/HCP Lead, Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust
  • Caroline Alexander Chief Nurse Barts Health NHS Trust
  • Professor Deirdre Fowler, Chief Nurse and Midwife, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston Foundation Trust
  • Ann-Marie Riley, University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust
  • Professor Cheryl Lenney, OBE, Chief Nurse Manchester University Foundation Trust
  • Professor Janelle Yorke, Executive Chief Nurse & Director of Quality The Christie NHS Foundation Trust
  • Mairead Griffin, Chief Nurse, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust
  • Michelle Rhodes, Chief Nurse Nottingham University Hospitals
  • Vanessa Sweeney, Acting Chief Nurse University College London Hospital
  • Lisa Knight MBE, Chief Nurse, London North West University Healthcare
  • Vanessa Smith, Chief Nurse, South London and Maudsley
Read the letter (PDF)