Other health unions are also balloting workers for industrial action. On Thursday night GMB Scotland announced the suspension of strikes due to start next week while it consults with its members over a new pay offer from the Scottish government.

Midwives and physiotherapists are also voting on strikes, while a ballot of junior doctors opens in the new year.

Steve Barclay, Health and Social Care Secretary, said: “I am hugely grateful for the hard work and dedication of nurses and deeply regret some union members will be taking industrial action.

“These are challenging times for everyone and the economic circumstances mean the RCN’s demands, which on current figures are a 19.2 per cent pay rise, costing £10 billion a year, are not affordable.

“We have prioritised the NHS with an extra £6.6 billion, on top of previous record funding, and accepted the recommendations of the independent NHS Pay Review Body to give nurses a fair pay rise of at least £1,400 this year. This means a newly qualified nurse will typically earn over £31,000 a year – with more senior nurses earning much more than that – they will also receive a pension contribution worth 20 per cent of their salary.

“Our priority is keeping patients safe. The NHS has tried and tested plans in place to minimise disruption and ensure emergency services continue to operate.”

NHS Confederation vows to prioritise patient safety

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Health leaders understand this may be an uncertain time for many people, including those who routinely rely on the NHS, and that these strikes are coming ahead of what tends to be the busiest time of the year for the service.

“The expectation remains that as a minimum, urgent, emergency and critical care services will continue on strike days and should there be temporary changes to non-urgent aspects of care, such as check-ups and planned procedures, the NHS will make sure this is communicated in advance to patients, prioritising their safety at all times.”

Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, said: “Why on earth is the Health Secretary refusing to negotiate with nurses? Patients already can’t get treated on time, strike action is the last thing they need, yet the Government is letting this happen. Patients will never forgive the Conservatives for this negligence.”

Meanwhile, senior GPs at the British Medical Association on Thursday urged colleagues to become “activists” to build support for industrial action by GPs. Dr Kieran Shannon made the call at a conference of Local Medical Committees, which on Thursday voted to cut GP core opening hours to 9am to 5pm.

GPs said expecting their practices to open from 8am to 6.30pm was discriminatory against those who wished to have families, which due to a “still-patriarchal” society mostly affected women.

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