Client: Royal College of Nursing
PR team: In-house
Campaign: To secure a three per cent pay increase for nurses
Timescale: February 1995 - February 1996
Budget: pounds 106,480 but campaign generated pounds 97,000 from
increased RCN membership
In February 1995 the Government announced a one per cent national pay
rise for nurses, with any additional rises being decided by individual
NHS Trusts. This outraged nurses, especially as increases of three per
cent-plus were announced for other professions covered by public pay
award bodies. The Royal College of Nursing Council rejected the report
of the Pay Review Body and launched a year-long campaign to achieve a
three per cent pay rise for nurses in every NHS Trust.
In the short term the RCN sought to maintain a national going rate for
nurses’ pay by securing a three per cent rise from every trust. In the
longer term the RCN wanted to resist the move towards locally determined
pay in the health service, and to lay the groundwork for a fair award in
The slogan ‘Three per cent now! A fair deal for nurses’ was used
throughout the campaign which capitalised on early media sympathy
highlighting the unfairness of local pay, warning of growing nurse
shortages and supplying case studies of skilled nurses.
The broadcast media in particular followed every twist and turn of the
RCN’s case, as they tried to reach the critical mass of 300 Trusts
offering three per cent. Broadsheet newspapers covered the campaign as
part of a broader health service news agenda.
The RCN timed the campaign to full effect: releasing important
announcements early on Thursday, so that they could be taken up in
Prime Minister’s Question Time, and then continue right through to
Question Time on BBC1.
Nurses organised leafletcampaigns, rallies in shopping centres,
collected signatures at pharmacists and petitioned MPs. RCN negotiators
were instructed to only accept individual three per cent deals with
Trusts once 300 Trusts had agreed, to create a bandwagon effect.
By mid-September, the critical mass of 300 Trusts offering three per
cent had been achieved, and by January 1996 95 per cent of Trusts were
offering this deal.
RCN membership increased throughout the campaign, with members balloted
on their opinions. Improved internal communications with the membership
has also been one of the lasting legacies of the pay campaign.
The campaign had two low spots. The decision to take industrial action
lost some media sympathy. The formerly sympathetic Guardian said that
the nurses were taking action on the wrong issue. The RCN Council also
campaigned separately from the other health service unions, namely
UNISON, leading to some confusion over issues. At a local level UNISON
reports that campaigning with RCN branches was rock solid.
The RCN achieved a three per cent annual increase for its membership,
and got public support on the issue of industrial action. Throughout the
1995 health service pay campaign there were briefings and counter
briefings by different unions, NHS Trusts and NHS management. Despite
this, the RCN’s message and image came over loud and clear to both its
own membership and the public - no mean feat.