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Who is the nursing union's Pat Cullen?

Full exchange: Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak clash over NHS nurses strike

With hundreds and thousands of nurses going on strike today over pay for the first time in the history of NHS, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is likely to be in the news much more than usual.

The RCN represents almost half a million nurses, student nurses, midwives and nursing support workers in the UK and internationally.

The nurse's strike comes amid a host of other strike actions from workers involved in communications and railways, with people like Mick Lynch, the General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), becoming familiar figures on our TV screens.

The RCN union is headed by Pat Cullen, who became General Secretary and Chief Executive last year. But who is she and what do we know about her?

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58-year-old Cullen began her nursing career in Northern Ireland where she was born. She began in mental health nursing and is still a qualified psychotherapist.

Expect to see Pat Cullen on our screens much more over the coming weeksBBC Newsnight

During the Troubles, she worked as a community nurse in West Belfast and became the Assistant Director of Mental Health Services and Professional Head of Nursing in a local healthcare trust. In 2001, she joined Northern Ireland’s Department of Health as Nursing Officer.

Since then, she has held roles within the Public Health Agency and the Health and Social Care Board. In 2016, she joined the RCN and was appointed as acting General Secretary & Chief Executive of the organisation in April 2021, becoming permanent in July.

This morning as strike action began, Cullen tweeted supporting union members for taking to the picket line.

Cullen wrote: “As I prepare to join many picket lines today, To all our nursing staff-I have the utmost respect for you. Your courage to stand up and be heard for your patients will not be ignored. Shame on this Govt for leaving you out in the cold. 1st stop St Thomas Hsp. See you there colleagues.”

The RCN boss has stressed that nurses do not want to strike, but claimed they are being forced into the action because the government’s pay offer amounts to a real-terms cut in salaries.

Cullen said: “Nurses are not relishing this. We are acting with a very heavy heart. It has been a difficult decision taken by hundreds of thousands who begin to remove their labour from tomorrow in a bid to be heard, recognised and valued.

“It is a tragic first for nursing, the RCN and the NHS. Nursing staff on picket lines is a sign of failure on the part of governments.”

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