The UK government has confirmed it will take the RCN to court over the planned strike action on Tuesday 2 May.
This comes after it received a request from NHS Employers last week asking the health secretary to intervene and seek the view of the courts.
Steve Barclay said: ‘ Following a request from NHS Employers I am regretfully applying to the High Court to declare the Royal College of Nursing’s planned strike action on 2 May unlawful.
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‘Despite attempts by my officials to resolve the situation over the weekend, I have been left with no choice but to proceed with legal action.’
RCN chief executive, Pat Cullen described the situation as ‘nakedly political’ and ‘frightening for democracy’.
In an email to members working for the NHS in England last night, Cullen said: ‘The threat sadly became a reality. We told the government that this is wrong and indefensible.
‘The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them including in court.’
Cullen confirmed that if the court decide to support the government’s case later this week then they will cut the strike action planned for next week.
She said: ‘It’s so wrong for the government to use taxpayers’ money to drag our profession through the court.
‘We’re determined to show that the nursing profession is strong and defend our members’ right to strike.’
The dispute is related to the strike action planned for 2 May which NHS Employers claimed was outside the RCN’s mandate for strike action which lasts six months from the point a statutory industrial action ballot closes.
The ballot closed at midday 2 November and therefore the nursing union have argued legal precedent indicates their mandate should last to midnight 2 May.
However, NHS Employers argued that it should only last until midnight 1 May sparking intervention from the government.
NHS Employers chief executive, Danny Mortimer responded to the government’s decision to take legal action with: ‘There is clearly still not agreement as to the legality of the period of strike action planned by the RCN for next weekend, and the only way that can be resolved is through seeking the view of a judge.
‘The Secretary of State is therefore seeking clarity as to legal principle and fact, and it is in everyone’s interest (especially the RCN and its members) to now do so.’