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‘tenacious’ chief of UK’s putting nursing union

Within the area of just some months, Pat Cullen has turn out to be the general public face of Britain’s nurses, whose historic strike has laid naked a well being service on its knees.

Cullen, 58, comes from a household of nurses: 4 of her 5 sisters are all within the occupation and she or he admits that nursing is “in my blood”.

The softly spoken Northern Irishwoman is just not prepared to budge on her union’s calls for and warns the federal government that she is “tenacious”.

“After I consider in one thing I will comply with it by way of to the bitter finish,” she instructed The Guardian newspaper.

Wes Streeting, an opposition Labor lawyer in control of well being coverage, known as her a “powerful negotiator.”

A nurse for 41 years, Cullen grew to become the overall secretary of the Royal Faculty of Nursing (RCN) union {and professional} physique in 2021.

She represents its membership of almost 450,000 nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants — the most important such union on this planet.

Below her management, the members voted for a historic strike: for the primary time for the reason that RCN was based 106 years in the past, they stopped work on December 15 and 20.

Because the Conservative authorities caught to its view that the pay rises they’re asking for are unaffordable, the nurses went again on strike on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

Additional industrial motion is deliberate on February 6 and seven.

Cullen says they haven’t any selection: because of the austerity insurance policies of Conservative governments, nurses’ pay has fallen almost 20 % in actual phrases within the final 10 years.

The RCN needs a pay enhance of round 19 %, effectively above inflation which stands at 10.5 %, to offset the lower.


Cullen’s temper was removed from celebratory on the primary day of December’s strike.

“This can be a tragic day for nursing, it is a tragic day for sufferers,” she mentioned at a picket outdoors a hospital.

Ambulance drivers, railway staff and lecturers have additionally gone on strike over pay disputes, inflicting the type of mass disruption not seen in Britain for many years.

However what’s completely different in regards to the nurses’ strike is the diploma of public help for his or her trigger.

Virtually two-thirds of British individuals help it, in line with a ballot printed January 17.

The general public retains a robust sense of loyalty to the state-funded Nationwide Well being Service (NHS) and feels grateful to nurses for his or her care in the course of the pandemic.

Cullen is taking part in an energetic function getting the nurses’ place throughout.

She frequently excursions tv studios to explain exhausting each day rounds, tens of 1000’s of unfilled posts and the way some nurses have needed to resort to utilizing meals banks.

“That is our time to talk up and have our voice heard on behalf of our sufferers,” she confused.

-Household history-

For Cullen, nursing is greater than a calling: it is also a household affair. Born to a farming household, she is the youngest of seven siblings, six of whom are women.

Her eldest sister, who’s 17 years outdated, was the primary to qualify.

“I bear in mind her coming dwelling in her lovely nurse’s uniform speaking passionately to us as a younger household about what she’d been doing on her final shift,” Cullen instructed The Guardian.

To her nice remorse, her two kids have chosen different paths, however her husband works as a GP in Northern Eire.

Cullen began work as a psychological well being nurse.

She launched into her first struggle with the administration at a psychiatric hospital in Antrim in Northern Eire in 1983.

She wrote to the administration to complain about its “heartless coverage” of taking private objects away from sufferers to punish them for troublesome conduct.

“I felt it was completely unfair. These individuals had been sick… Sufferers on the wards could not cope with out their very own private belongings,” she recalled.

She gained the battle.

Cullen had at all times been a member of the RCN, however in 2019, she grew to become director of the RCN in Northern Eire.

After seven months, she led a three-day strike by nurses demanding a pay enhance. This was the primary such motion for the reason that union’s creation.

She gained that battle, too.

As Rishi Sunak’s authorities will likely be effectively conscious, Cullen is not one to surrender and not using a struggle.


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