October 6 – A row broke out yesterday after nurses and midwives were warned to be careful about taking part in industrial action. The intervention by the Nursing and Midwifery Council angered the public sector union Unison, a key organiser of the national pensions strike planned for November 30th.
The main nursing unions, the RCN and the RCM, have so far not agreed to back any kind of industrial action – although the RCN has threatened to ballot its members. But many nurses are members of Unison and of Unite.
The NMC said nurses who took part must “consider very carefully” the impact of their actions.
And it warned nurses that they could face serious disciplinary action if they took actions that put patients at risk.
Chief executive Professor Dickon Weir-Hughes said: “The NMC respects their democratic right to express support for their trade unions and to lobby on a wide range of issues.
“However this must never be at the expense of the people that they are caring for. Nurses and midwives are in a unique position of trust. They have a professional obligation under their code of conduct to ensure that the care of people is their first concern and that they must provide a high standard of practice and care at all times.
“In considering how to respond to calls for industrial action, nurses and midwives must ensure that their actions do not jeopardise good standards of care. They will need to consider very carefully the impact of their actions on the people receiving their care.
“In making their judgements they must take their direction from the requirements of The code: Standards of conduct, performance and ethics for nurses and midwives. As the regulator for the professions, it is the NMC’s responsibility to remind nurses and midwives that they are personally accountable for actions and omissions in their practice and they must always be able to justify their decisions.
“Nurses and midwives are reminded that their registration could be at risk if they fail to comply with the code.”
But Unison accused the NMC of making a statement that was “threatening and heavy-handed.”
Head of health Christina McAnea accused the NMC of compromising its impartiality.
She promised Unison would work with NHS Employers to ensure emergency cover and the protection of patient safety.
She said: “I am appalled that the NMC has timed it to coincide with our preparations for an industrial action ballot – which has not even started.
“Unison members in the health service would never do anything to harm their patients – they do their jobs every day to care for the sick, the vulnerable and the elderly. And as a responsible union, we would never ask our members to do anything that would endanger patient safety, or which is against their code of conduct.”