NURSES will strike for the first time in their union’s history today.
Cancer treatment, A&E departments and outpatient appointments will be hit by walkouts after crisis talks broke down.
Many hospitals will be cut back to bank holiday or night duty staffing levels, delaying patient care.
NHS England’s deputy chief nursing officer, Charlotte McArdle, said: “While strikes will cause inevitable disruption, local NHS teams have worked hard to maintain as many appointments as possible.
“It is important people attend appointments as planned unless they have been contacted for it to be rearranged.”
Around a third of hospitals in England will be involved in the first wave – up to 44 NHS trusts.
Efforts to avoid the strike failed as ministers refused to budge on the RCN’s pay demands.
The union offered to suspend industrial action if given a sign of a better offer – but did not get an olive branch.
He said: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this Government.
“Instead of showing leadership, he is playing games with people’s health and there is a human cost.”
The RCN has asked for a salary boost equal to around 19 per cent, which ministers say would cost a staggering £10billion.
“My number one priority is to keep patients safe and I’ve been working across government and with medics outside the public sector to ensure safe staffing levels.
“But I do remain concerned about the risk that strikes pose to patients.”
NHS Employers, which represents hospital bosses, said it was worried about the hit to cancer patients.
CEO Danny Mortimer said: “There are areas where we are disappointed that we have not been able to make more progress with the RCN.
“The limited national derogations for cancer services are a particular area of worry.”
The UK’s four chief nurses had urged the union not to put patients’ lives at risk and keep cancer services running.
But RCN bosses agreed only to maintain the most urgent clinics.
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