Up to 100,000 nurses across England, Wales, N. Ireland to strike -union

FILE PHOTO: Medical staff treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients at Milton Keynes University Hospital, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Milton Keynes

LONDON (Reuters) - Nurses at half of all National Health Service locations in England, including London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, will take part in unprecedented strikes next month over pay, their trade union said on Tuesday.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) had already said that nurses would walk out on Dec. 15 and 20, the first such action in its 100-year history, after the government refused to meet demands for pay hikes of 5% above inflation.

On Tuesday, the RCN, whose more than 465,000 members include nurses, midwives, health care assistants and nursing students, said NHS facilities across England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be affected by the strike of up to 100,000 nurses.

"Ministers have declined my offer of formal pay negotiations," RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said in a statement. "It has left us with no choice but to announce where our members will be going on strike in December."

The RCN said there would be strikes at every NHS employer in Wales except one and throughout Northern Ireland. The Scottish government has engaged the union in talks with a separate pay offer, and so no strikes were announced there.

More strikes might be called if talks are not held, it said.

The walkouts will add to pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as Britain faces a looming economic recession and a cost-of-living crisis with inflation reaching a 41-year-high of 11.1% in October.

The NHS, which has provided healthcare free at the point of use since 1948, is now dealing with a record 7 million patients on waiting lists for hospital treatment. Accident and emergency departments are also under strain.

(Reporting by Muvija M; Editing by Catherine Evans)